Worry & CBT
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Understanding Worry & How CBT Can Help

Worry and anxiety seems to be an increasingly unavoidable part of modern life. Our near constant connection to news and social media can feed anxiety-inducing thoughts. Financial and career uncertainty affects many. Instability in the world and environment around us impacts our view of the future.

With these factors at play, finding effective ways to manage worry and maintain mental wellbeing is more important than ever before. In this blog we will explore worry and how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be a powerful tool to help us navigate worry.

Understanding worry

Persistent worry is sometimes referred to as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Why some worry more than others is not entirely understood. However, there are some factors that may contribute to its development:

  • Genetics. If you have a family history of anxiety disorders, you are more likely to develop GAD. Some studies suggest that genetic factors account for 30-40% of the risk of developing GAD.
  • Brain chemistry: For some, imbalances in neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in your brain that transmit signals between nerve cells) such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine play a role in anxiety and worry.
  • Environmental factors: Stressful or traumatic life events can trigger GAD. Current world and national events such as economic uncertainty, climate change, and geopolitical tensions can contribute to heightened anxiety levels.
  • Personality: Certain personality traits such as having low self-esteem, tending to be perfectionistic, or being overly timid, can make you more prone to worry.

What are the symptoms of GAD?

Symptoms of GAD may include:

  • Persistent and excessive worry about various everyday things
  • Restlessness or feeling ‘keyed up’ or ‘on edge’
  • Difficulty concentrating or finding your mind going blank
  • Being tense or irritable
  • Muscle tension – often in the shoulders, back, or neck
  • Sleep problems – struggling to get or stay asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach ache, or nausea

How common is persistent Worry?

In the UK, persistent worry is a significant mental health issue. Six in every 100 people have suffer with worry and women are twice as likely to experience persistent worry as men. Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) indicate that nearly 20% of adults experienced some form of anxiety disorder.

Am I just a worrier?

It’s normal to worry occasionally. It happens to everyone. But when worry becomes persistent, excessive, or difficult to control, it might be a sign of something more significant.

Are you…

  • Worrying more days than not for at least six months?
  • Finding your worries difficult to control?
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as muscle tension, fatigue, irritability, or sleep problems?
  • Finding your worry is interfering with your ability to function at work, in social situations, or in other important areas of life?

If so, it may be time to seek more support.

How can CBT help Worry?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders including persistent worry and GAD. It focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviours. Together with an experienced therapist, you can learn to reframe your thoughts, improve your coping style and develop healthier ways to understand and manage stress.

Case Study: How CBT Helped Simon With Worry

Simon, a father of two young children, sought help at our clinic with marked symptoms of worry. He had repetitive ruminations (getting stuck in a loop of overthinking or replaying negative thoughts) and predictions about world politics and being unable to protect his family. Simon experienced physical symptoms including shallow breathing, muscle tension, and restless legs, along with feelings of dread.

He described his experience:

“What I was experiencing was not overwhelming, but rather a persistently heightened level of anxiety and worry which was worsening and beginning to affect how I was interacting with my family. I was often withdrawn and fretful, unable to keep my mind from analysing the latest news and statistics.”

Identifying Triggers

Through remote CBT sessions, we identified that Simon’s constant checking of social media and news updates was a significant trigger for his anxiety. This behaviour created a vicious cycle of rumination and increased anxiety.

Simon noted, “I was constantly refreshing the BBC News Live page for the latest news. I would search Twitter for opinions from experts. I was desperate to find something that would reassure me, but as there was very little to do so, I would keep digging!”

Breaking the Cycle

Simon’s first therapeutic experiment was to reduce his ‘doom scrolling’. He heavily reduced and tailored his online news intake to avoid speculative and sensationalist platforms. Instead, he chose to follow reliable sources for weekly updates.

Simon explained, “No more rolling news, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Instead, I would only read/watch the weekly Independent Sage briefing, the (very dry) government briefings, and some positive-news-only blogs.”

Exploring the Function of Worry

In subsequent sessions, we explored the purpose of Simon’s worry. He believed that worrying was a way to anticipate threats and protect his family. We asked:

“If I stopped worrying, would I lose something negative or something positive about myself?”

Simon observed, “Worry allows me to feel I am anticipating threats – it makes me feel I am doing my duty to look after my family.”

For homework, he looked at the pros and cons of worry as a way of best looking after the family. On reflection, Simon realized that the negative effect of his worry was denying his children the very thing they needed most from him – his attention.

Implementing New Strategies

Simon adopted a new mindset: challenging the impulse to worry by considering whether it was the best way to support his family. He developed a strategy to resist behaviours that heightened his anxiety.

Simon shared, “When faced with the temptation to ‘doom scroll,’ I would challenge myself by asking, ‘Is this the best thing to do for your kids?’ It was then relatively easy to consistently resist doing so.”

Outcome

With this regime in place, along with some extra mindfulness exercises, Simon found that his general level of anxiety and his periods of worry were significantly reduced. He was able to be more present and engaged with his family, providing them with the support they truly needed.

Seeking help

If, like Simon, you feel that persistent worry is having a negative impact on your life, it is important to seek professional help. Persistent worry that interferes with work, relationships, and daily activities is a sign that you may need support from a mental health professional. Early intervention can prevent symptoms from worsening and improve your quality of life.

Simon’s case is just one of many that demonstrates how CBT can help you break the cycle of worry, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and ultimately improve your quality of life. If you are struggling with persistent worry and anxiety, seeking help with CBT can be life changing.

Would you like to know more about how CBT can help you? Our consultant psychologist, Dr Sian Thrasher, offers a free 15-minute telephone consultation specifically for you to discuss CBT and treatment options.

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