The capacity for forward thinking is a wonderful element of the human experience. It opens up the joy of planning for your future and gives you the benefit of problem-solving abilities. Unfortunately, it also welcomes in thoughts of all the worst-case scenarios you might encounter. This is what psychologists term as hypothetical worry.
In contrast with real worry, which focuses on actual problems you are facing that require a solution and actionable steps to be taken, hypothetical worry is based solely on something that may happen at some stage in the future. Consider a sliding scale of worry. At the ‘real’ end, this feeling can in fact be helpful, leading to plans for action and methods for coping with situations. However, the further you move along the continuum, the more harmful this worry can be.
When talking about cognitive distortions, or thinking errors, I addressed the issue of catastrophizing. This is another way of describing being overwhelmed by these hypothetical worries and can lead us to feel unable to cope with the scenarios and images we conjure up in our minds and project onto the future.
Think back to the last time you felt really worried or anxious about something that might happen to you. Chances are you experienced some combination of the following: muscle tension, aches and pains, a sense of exhaustion or perhaps restlessness, an inability to relax. The experience will have undoubtedly impacted on your ability to concentrate and your sleep patterns.
Experiencing worry in itself is not overwhelmingly harmful, it is the prolonged exposure to your physiological and psychological responses to this feeling that needs to be avoided wherever possible. If you’d like to learn more and discover simple yet powerful tools and strategies to stop worry from having a detrimental impact on your life, why not sign up for my Unravelling Worry course?