Worry is a chain of thoughts and images, negatively laden and relatively uncontrollable; it represents an attempt to engage in mental problem-solving on an issue whose outcome is uncertain but contains the possibility of one or more negative outcomes to the point of debilitating the ‘worrier’ in a state of anxiety.Definition of Worry adapted from Borkovec et al (1991)
We all worry about things to some extent — and many of us find it useful to proactively think about how they might deal with challenging future events. Of course thinking about future events need not take the form of worry and it is important to make distinctions between worry and other types of thinking.
As a Christian Psychologist and educator, I appreciate both the normality of worry and the features that often make ‘worry’ disabling and a source of emotional discomfort. I teach my students that ‘worry is an intolerance of uncertainty’.
Intolerance of uncertainty
Intolerance of uncertainty is defined as the excessive tendency of an individual to consider it unacceptable that an event or outcome may occur outside of their control. They do not tolerate being unsure/uncertain about the future.
Pause for reflection and ask yourself these questions:
- ‘How tolerant am I of uncertainty?’
- ‘Can I cope with not knowing the finer details of what is next in my life?’.
We will often find that at the root of our worries is our intolerance of uncertainty. It is the fuel for the unnumbered ‘what-if?’ questions, which consequently leads to the cycle of worry, anxiety, demoralisation and exhaustion.
Our intolerance for uncertainty, ultimately reveals a deeper issue with trusting The One who is certain, The God who knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
We ought not to mask over our ‘intolerance for uncertainty’, neither should we ignore the fact that we see in part and know in part (I Corinthians 13:9-10). Instead, we should present our uncertainties to God – because even if the future isn’t clear to you right now; it is crystal clear to The God who predestined you and gave you a hope and a future.
Anytime you catch yourself displaying an ‘intolerance of uncertainty’- speak to your mind and say ‘I choose to be tolerant of uncertainty because of The One who is certain about all that concerns me’.
Dealing with worry
Worry awareness training
The primary step towards targeting excessive worry is actually recognising when it occurs. By paying attention to your worries, and even recording them in a journal, you are putting yourself back in control to catch them much early on in the worry cycle.
A further step is to separate your worries into two distinct categories: ‘worries about your present situation’ and ‘worries about hypothetical future situations’. When you do this, you can draw upon what we learned yesterday about becoming more tolerant of uncertainty, and again you will retain clarity and control over your thoughts.
In Psalm 94:17-19, the Psalmist writes ‘in the multitude of my anxious thoughts within me, Your comforts delight my soul!’ (Amplified version).
How did the Psalmist know that they had a multitude of anxious thoughts? I argue that this is a brilliant example of worry awareness training. The psalmist knew that they had those thoughts because they paid attention to them – even to the point of recording them in this Psalm.
Re-evaluate the usefulness of worry
The second thing we must do is, reevaluate the usefulness of worrying. As long as you believe that your worries serve a purpose, you will be hesitant about reducing your worries. Matthew 6:27 says – ‘And who of you by worrying and being anxious can add one unit of measure to his stature or to the span of his life?’.
Intentionally challenge the areas where you think worrying is useful. For example: If you say that ‘worry helps in problem solving’ – challenge this thought with, ‘do you actually solve your problems by worrying or by doing?’ Or, if you say that ‘worrying is essential for success’ – challenge this with ‘does worrying significantly improve your performance or are there negative emotional, psychological and physical consequences?
Summary: Worry is ‘normal’. Christians are not exempt from experiencing debilitating worries; yet we have been given the tools and numerous examples of how to overcome constant worrying. These tools look like counselling using the simple cognitive tasks above and the counsel of scripture. Remember that if you are experiencing chronic anxiety which has caused you to disengage from your normal activities and is co-experienced with persistent low mood; that you must contact your GP (doctor) immediately.
This post was written in line with Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. Christians have mental health too and this is where Psychology meets scripture. We receive the counsel of His word and the counsel of those who have been trained by the Grace of God to offer expert counsel for those suffering from mental challenges.
Share the post with those you think will be encouraged and well done for reading this far! God bless you! Kanayo x
Reference: Borkovec, T., Shadick, R. & Hopkins, M. (1991). The nature of normal and patho-logical worry. In R. Rapee & D. Barlow (Eds), Chronic anxiety: Generalized anxiety disorder and mixed anxiety-depression (pp. 29–51). New York: Guilford Press.
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