orry has been the subject of talk in countless studies and research for many years. There are three main components of garden-variety worry: overthinking, avoidance of negative outcomes and inhibition of emotions. Worry piggybacks on humans’ inborn tendency to think about the future: we crave control. Chronic worriers see the world as an unsafe place and want to fight this sense of conflict. Over-worriers feel that agonizing gives them this control, and they tend to avoid situations they can’t have power over. People agonize about matters that rarely happen. Constant worriers also show increased activity in areas of the brain associated with executive functions, such as planning, reasoning and impulse control. When an electroencephalogram (EEG) is used to measure activity in the prefrontal cortex, before and after an alarming news is delivered; the activity in the left frontal cortex increases for people who worry compared with those who do not, suggesting that the left frontal cortex plays a prominent role in worrying. Trying too hard to be in command of a given situation or our own thoughts may backfire when worriers are instead overrun with repetitive anxieties. We know now that the more we dwell on negative thoughts, the more those threats feel real and the more they will repeat in our skulls, sometimes uncontrollably. Remember that when people were told not to think about a pink elephant, they tend to mention it about once a minute. Or just like when a song gets stuck in your head, you think you ought to be able to get rid of it, but you only end up making it stick more by trying to push it away.
Two emotion-processing areas of the brain are also involved in worry: the anterior insula and the amygdala. In an interesting study few years back they used functional MRI on a few applicants and found that when participants anticipated losing a significant amount of money in the future, activity increased in their anterior insula.
Constant worrying takes a heavy toll. It makes you tense and edgy and leaves you feeling like a nervous wreck. So why is it so difficult to stop worrying?
For most chronic worriers, the anxious thoughts are fueled by the beliefs—both negative and positive—they hold about worrying. It has also become an addiction without which they won’t know what to do.
Negative beliefs, or worrying about worrying, add to your anxiety and keep worry going. But positive beliefs about worrying can be just as damaging. It’s tough to break the worry habit if you believe that your worrying protects you. In or
der to stop worry and anxiety for good, you must give up your belief that worrying serves a positive purpose. Once you realize that worrying is the problem, not the solution, you can regain control of your worried mind. This would be the type of control that would be healthy for you. Be the Light! EL