During the ‘warm down’ after a recent gym class, the instructor played Baz Luhrmann’s  Everybody’s Free (To WearSunscreen)*. After forty minutes in the company of Boot-Camp Barbara (she had clearly trained with Special Forces) and her high intensity routine, I took the opportunity to focus on the lyrics. I had no choice. I couldn’t move.

I hadn’t really appreciated the words before, but perhaps when Sunscreen was released, 20 years ago, it hadn’t resonated with me. Yes, Mr Luhrmann offers advice on skin protection and caring for one’s knees, but it was the verse about worry that really struck a chord…

Don’t worry about the future, or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an equation by chewing bubble gum.

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.

The kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday

*the lyrics were from an essay written by by columnist Mary Schmich. It first appeared in 1997 in the Chicago Sunday Tribune.

Yep. The wasted hours of fretting over non-existent problems and crystal ball gazing amounted to nothing but anxiety!

How many times do we make anxious predictions about future situations and events, and even avoid them, only to find that in reality they are never as ‘catastrophic’ as we had imagined? We cannot possibly see into the future and yet we convince ourselves that something awful is going to happen simply because we ‘feel’ it.

If you’re prone to making negative predictions, perhaps it’s worth reflecting on both the good and bad things that have happened and deciding if you could have seen them coming? If you believe that only bad stuff happens, then think about the past couple of days and pick out two good things. Perhaps you have your mental filter switched on and it’s your unhelpful thinking style that is the issue?

Getting back to Baz’s words of wisdom, unfortunately the things that cause us real worry unfold without warning a lot of the time.  We can only deal with these as they occur. How do we prepare for something we could not foresee? So ask yourself, what is the benefit of worry and anxious predictions?

Maybe you believe that if you have considered all possible outcomes through worrying about a situation, you’ll be prepared for the worst-case scenario? This sounds like a plan, until you realise that you are worrying too much about too many things, too much of the time.  Exhausting, isn’t it? 

What If?

It’s really challenging to ignore anxious thoughts and worries, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t try to break the vicious cycle. If the worry is concerning an anxious prediction about something that might happen (in other words, ‘a story’) try to acknowledge this – observe the thought and accept it for what it is, “I worry about what people think about me and I want to be liked, so I’m anxious about going out. What if I can’t think of anything interesting to say?”

Acknowledge that you are worrying and why you are worrying ( I get a bit anxious in big groups and I worry that I might come over as boring). Before you start with the anxious forecasts, remind yourself that this isn’t a real problem. Instead, the thought about not having anything interesting to say may be just your biased opinion. What if you do come across as boring? BUT WHAT IF you don’t?! What if you have fun, enjoy yourself, build your confidence…?

With a real problem – something that needs solving soon- work out an action plan.

Real problem – I’m about to run out of petrol, I’d better find a garage.

Real problem – I have run out of petrol, I need to walk a garage.

Real(ly annoying) problem – There’s no garage for miles, I’d better call a friend!

Remember – Problems are very often solvable.

In CBT we use models as the basis of treatment plans. Dugas’s GAD model, supposes that people with chronic worry often find it hard to tolerate uncertainty (“I must absolutely know what will happen if…”), underestimate their problem solving skills (“I will not be able to cope if…”) and have unhelpful beliefs about worry (Worry helps me stay on my toes).

They may well avoid any situation where certainty is not a given and this avoidance helps maintain the vicious cycle because the more we avoid something, the scarier it can become. So try not to let worry take over. If you decide that has, then is there is plenty of help out there, be it individual therapy or self help literature.

Don’t worry about the world coming to and end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.

Charles M. Schultz (US cartoonist and creator of Peanuts)