When worrying takes over control

Keeping your thoughts under control isn’t always easy. Luckily, not having them under control all the time is actually a good thing! After all, daydreaming every now and then isn’t just relaxing, it’s also very useful. . However, having trouble controlling your own thoughts can be very unpleasant, especially when they’re negative and repetitive. Worrying takes up the necessary cognitive capacity, distracts you, and can keep you awake. If this happens too regularly, it can influence your study results. It can even lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. Needless to say, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes in order to understand that worrying is neither constructive nor desirable.

Worrying: helpful or not?

Thoughts that keep haunting your mind are often about your own future. The question “what if scenario X occurs?” is very common. Usually, X is something negative, which is why these thoughts often create anxiety. Worrying too much is never the solution to your problems, even though it might seem that way – like that time when that exam you were worrying about ended well. You might believe that you worrying and passing your exam are linked to one another, even when there is no proof to back up that relationship whatsoever. In fact, you might have had a better grade if you hadn’t worried so much. Sometimes worrying occurs when you’d rather think about a certain situation than act on it. Also, by worrying you can avoid feeling certain emotions.

The worry experiment

It is surprisingly difficult not to think about something, otherwise called as “thought suppression”. Psychologist Daniel Wegner made it his life’s work to examine this phenomenon. He asked participants to speak their thoughts out loud for 5 minutes after instructing them not to think about a white bear. Despite these instructions, the participants thought of a white bear more than once per minute on average. Of course, had they not received that instruction, chances would have been very slim that they would have thought about white bears.

The second assignment – thinking about white bears on purpose – was a lot easier to perform. What was striking, however, was that another group of participants who were also allowed to think of white bears during the first assignment, actually thought less about white bears than the participants who first tried to suppress those thoughts.

What’s the usefulness of this experiment? Well, Wegner’s research provides insight into an ironic process: by not wanting to think about something, you start thinking about it more often. This causes stress. Therefore, the solution to worrying isn’t thought suppression. So what is? Wegner offers a few tactics that can help: Consciously schedule time to think about your “white bear”. Allow yourself a moment to think about whatever’s bothering you and then let it be. Meditation exercises can help you get a better grip on your thoughts. Practise makes perfect!

Farewell, worries!

The fact that you are reading this right now is a good sign. You’ve probably noticed that you’ve been worrying too much lately and want to do something about it. Instead of worrying about it (which you could have done), you are trying to find a solution. Apart from Wegner’s suggestions, you’ve probably found plenty of tips on the internet. Determining which of these tips work best for you and learning new useful habits will be your next challenge. Not sure where to begin? Don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re happy to help!

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