|While they are aware that worrying is not good for their health, people just can’t stop the negative thoughts from coming in / Photo by: Peshkova via Shutterstock|
“Dub, dub, dub.” Those are the loud thumps made by the heart of people who worry or are anxious about something. The food to prepare, work to do, people to deal with, and bills to pay are only some of the thoughts that may occupy their mind from time to time. While they are aware that worrying is not good for their health, people just can’t stop the negative thoughts from coming in.
A new study published by Psychology Today, an online magazine that offers help from a directory of therapists, psychologists, and counselors, found the reason why people can’t stop worrying. It’s because it helps them be more “emotionally prepared” for the worst possible outcome. For instance, a student just finished a difficult exam in class. They may begin to worry about what will happen if they fail. As the person is worrying, they are bracing themselves up emotionally in case the result will not be positive.
Emotional Contrast Avoidance
Authors Sandra Llera, Ph.D. and Michelle Newman Ph.D. referred to it as emotional contrast avoidance. This means that the person is avoiding the contrast between feeling happy and suddenly feeling bad. People diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are excessively sensitive when it comes to negative emotional contrasts or shifts caused by unpleasant events. So, they recruit that sustained negativity through worry as their form of a defensive stance against the changing state.
People worry before the result not because it made them better in case the outcome is bad but the shift in their emotions will not be so dramatic. It gives them the satisfaction thinking that they were right so it feels like they are protecting themselves on an emotional level. The idea may be counterintuitive because something torturous and painful makes a person feel protected.
In their experiment, the authors asked their participants to either relax or worry before they watch an upsetting video. The result showed that people who worried before watching the movie scene did not experience much change in their emotions as a response to the video. On the other hand, those who relaxed before watching the video experienced a “big spike” in their negative emotions.
Why the Emotional Pattern Is “Seductive”
The authors added that the emotional pattern is seductive to some because they are keeping their emotional guard up and they are just playing it safe. They don’t get their hopes up so they cannot be disappointed. The researchers, however, did not suggest emotional contrast avoidance. They believed that people may just unintentionally turn their positive feelings into something bad.
They said that instead of worrying, people should begin to trust their ability to cope with the negative events in life. A July 2019 research titled “Exposing Worry’s Deceit: Percentage of Untrue Worries in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Treatment” highlighted that 91.4% of the things people worry about did not come true for those with GAD. But in case something will happen, it is best if people are better equipped or are coming from “a place of emotional well-being” instead of a state of pessimism and anxiety. If they are emotionally healthy to deal with the result, they can even be more open-minded to try other solutions and look for other opportunities. For example, the student may join a study group next time or email their professor if there is an opportunity to earn extra credit, such as doing a project.
|The authors added that the emotional pattern is seductive to some because they are keeping their emotional guard up and they are just playing it safe. They don’t get their hopes up so they cannot be disappointed / Photo by: Zarubina Viktoriia via Shutterstock|
Coping Skills Suggested by the Authors
There are also other coping skills suggested by the authors such as relaxation training, guided meditation, and mindfulness. There are dozens of apps that can be downloaded, they said. Physical exercise is also rewarding. Letting oneself feel emotionally vulnerable and facing fears are also ways to let go of the negative mindset.
|There are also other coping skills suggested by the authors such as relaxation training, guided meditation, and mindfulness / Photo by: Luna Vandoorne via Shutterstock|
Anxiety Disorders: Statistics
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America stated that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US and it affects 40 million adults who are 18 years and older. While anxiety disorders are “highly treatable,” only 36.9% of those suffering from the disorder are receiving treatment.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects 6.8 million adults (3.1% of the population) in the US but only 43.2% are receiving treatment. GAD usually co-occurs with major depression and women are twice as likely to be affected with GAD as men. Meanwhile, panic disorder (PD) affects 6 million adults (2.7%). Social anxiety disorder (SAD) also affects 15 million adults or 6.8% of the population in the US.
Certain phobias affect 8.7% or 19 million adults in the US. Symptoms of phobias often begin in childhood and its average onset is at 7 years old. Excessive worrying or feeling overly concerned about a problem or situation can affect a person’s daily life so much that it may affect their appetite, job performance, sleep, relationships, and lifestyle habits. This is according to health and medical news platform WebMD. Amid excessive worrying, the person may suffer panic or high anxiety even during waking hours.
The study discussed above reminds us of a saying that even when the pessimist turns out right in the end, at least the optimist had a better time getting there.