Worry theory: Overcoming common thought traps

This century is characterized by high levels of anxiety (the normal automatic emotional response to perceived threat) and worry (a mental strategy to avoid danger). While anxiety and worry is normal, many people experience these in excess. Here follows a variety of common thought traps that prevent you from having a corrective learning experience about anxiety. 

Overestimation of the probability of you making serious social faux pas

Contrary to popular belief, the fashion police is a rare group of the human race. Not everybody is out to detect your deviations from perfection. In fact, people are often more attracted to individuals who show their humanity (imperfection).

It’s not as often as you think

Predict how often you will make a mistake during the delivery of a speech. Make a recording of you delivering said speech and watch it to count how often you did make mistakes.

It’s not as noticeable as you think

Try to notice how often other people make the same mistakes (e.g. hesitating, saying the wrong word, etc.). Do those imperfections make it unpleasant to be around them?

Overestimation of probability of threat

Unexpected bad things are unfortunately part of life. While it would be terrible for an airplane to crash into your house, the likelihood of this happening is very low. Spending time worrying about low probability threats, is a waste of time.

Instead, purposefully expose yourself to information that triggers your fears (e.g. car accidents, fires, stories about scandal and financial ruin), to prove to yourself that mere exposure to it does not, in fact, cause it.

Awfulizing minor events

Be weary of making mountains out of molehills: paying your library fine a few days late does not mean that you will have a criminal record, disagreeing with your partner about a brand of toilet paper does not mean that you are having a divorce. Paradoxically, increased worry about the small things escalates the probability that similar events will happen in the future.

Replace overcautious behaviour with the opposite, slightly reckless (within reason) behaviour, e.g. not wash your hands before dinner, looking twice (not twenty times) before crossing the road.

False beliefs about worry

  • Worry motivates me: Research shows that excessive worry is counterproductive. So much worrying tires you out therefore reducing your energy to do tasks.
  • Worrying = problem solving: Excessive worrying interferes with finding solutions. Plus, worrying about uncontrollable, unlikely events may lead you to believe that you are bad at problem solving. Because what solutions are there really to prevent the sky from falling on a loved one?
  • Worrying helps me to avoid or prevent trouble: In being so focused on unlikely threats, you are actually less vigilant against common (smaller) threats. Thus excessive worry actually interferes with your ability to avoid real danger.


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