In the essay entitled, “Worrying” in my book, I discuss my observations about the consequences of worrying and suggest that one of the reasons why people worry is to prepare for a dreaded event or experience. My impression is that “worrying as a means of preparedness or ‘upset avoidance’ is an unhappy illusion. It stimulates pessimism and dread. It validates negative beliefs about whatever one is worried about and makes it appear as though worry is appropriate, even necessary.”
A recent article in the New York Times by Roni Caryn Rabin reports research findings that both support and challenge my ideas. One researcher found that some people believe that worrying actually may serve to prevent the thing they worry about, not just prepare them for its eventual occurrence. This, to me, seems like magical thinking. Other researchers suggest that some worrying can be helpful if it is productive or instructive and leads one to taking steps to solve a problem. However, people who worried a lot and could not control their worrying were less likely to find a solution to their problem. The researchers, Marianna Szabo, now at the University of Sydney, and Peter F. Lovibond of the University of New South Wales in Australia, concluded that failing to come up with solutions may actually lead to more pathological worrying.
One of the coping strategies suggested by this research is to help worriers get control of their worrying as though it were something that could be tamed. They suggest that worriers pick a designated time of the day to mull their problems, i.e. a scheduled worry session and if a worrying thought enters their mind outside of their scheduled worry session, they should jot it down so they can think about it during their scheduled worry time.
Another suggestion for reducing worry, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is to work at strengthening one’s ability to accept uncertainty as one of the ways to reduce or eliminate worry or to get help in doing so. Ambiguity intolerance can lead, in conjunction with stressful life events and negative rumination (worrying), to depression. Those who are ambiguity intolerant tend to think negatively about their situations and soon view their worries as realistic when they may not be. This can be a predictive measure of depression.
For anyone who is a chronic or a severe worrier to the extent that it significantly interferes with their general well-being, and who feels the need for professional help in conquering this, therapy might be a good idea. Cognitive-behavioral therapy might be a treatment of choice, as well as any psychotherapy that focuses on this problem and tackles it in an active, focused, and goal-oriented way.