Why Do We Worry? Let Go of These 5 Myths

Worrying is a funny thing.

It can cause so much suffering, waste so much time, and make our symptoms worse. But, like any behavior, it serves a function, which is why it can be hard to give up. As much as I hated how worrying felt, I had a hard time changing my behavior.

I can still get lost worrying about something, but the difference is it no longer controls me.

So, why do we worry?

Understanding why we worry — why we think worrying will help — lays the foundation to move away from it. While worrying isn’t always negative, excessive worrying can cause physical symptoms and interfere with everyday functioning. Let’s look at the reasons or myths, why we worry.

Why Do We Worry: Myth #1
Worrying about something might prevent it from happening.

This is like reverse thought-action fusion. Instead of believing that having the thought makes it more likely to happen, this “logic” says that worrying about the event will keep it from happening. Logically, we know it doesn’t make sense, but when we’re in the spiral, it’s easy to forget that ruminating on it won’t prevent bad outcomes.

Why Do We Worry: Myth #2
Worrying about something enough will prepare you for when/if it happens (So it doesn’t hurt as much).

In my experience, 95% of what I thought would happen didn’t, and when the big stuff did, it wasn’t as I imagined it.

When I got trained in ERP, I remember us having to simulate an imaginal exposure and write out one of our worst fears coming true (or something like that). I can still feel the bright fluorescent lights beating down on me as I laid bare my fears. What it said about me, my fears about myself, and how the rest of my life would play out.

I read that script over and over, convinced if I did that, my actual fear wouldn’t come true, and if it did, I would be ready.

I thought worrying, overthinking, and preparing would protect me.

In the end, it protected me from nothing. My fear came true, and my life imploded. It was an excruciatingly painful time and nothing like what I predicted. The “catastrophe” did happen but not in the way I imagined and my ability to cope was way better than I imagined.

Why Do We Worry: Myth #3
Worrying keeps me on my toes.

I hear this one a lot from people who think their worrying (or extensive planning or compulsive checking, etc) gives them their edge. They’re often hanging onto that one time their compulsive behaviors caught something as a reason for their ambivalence to do it differently.

Why Do We Worry: Myth #4
Worrying shows I care.

This is one I’ve heard from parents A LOT.

They often feel irresponsible and guilty — even reckless — if they’re not worrying about some aspect of their kids’ lives.

There are other ways to show you care, and I’ve never heard of a child thanking their parents for losing sleep over them. In my experience, my kids don’t want to be near me when I’m spiraling about something, especially them.

Why Do We Worry: Myth #5
Worrying is my identity. It’s who I am.

That was me.

I thought I was just a worrier, like I have brown eyes.

Since I’d spent decades (mis)using this to try and solve problems that didn’t exist (except in my head), that was the only thing I knew to do when I got anxious. And I was anxious A LOT.

It wasn’t until one of my worst fears came true that I started to believe all that overthinking wasn’t going to keep bad things from happening. It only kept me suffering.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Just as I did, you can:

I share my own experiences and a step-by-step process in Just Do Nothing: A Paradoxical Guide to Getting Out of Your Way.