Don’t worry bout a thing

By Monika Walczak, Ph.D., Certified Metacognitive Therapist

“Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be all right” sang Bob Marley in his “Three
little birds” song. There is some wisdom in Bob’s words, at least in the first part of the famous chorus
line. For we can never know if everything is, in fact, going to be all right.

Another wise man once said: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Most of us can relate to Mark Twain’s words. According to Cambridge dictionary, to worry means
“to think about problems or unpleasant things that might happen in a way that makes you feel
unhappy and frightened”. Worrying involves utilizing mental and emotional energy on the possible
consequences of a problem that are very unlikely to happen. Typically, a worry would be a sentence
in our mind starting with ‘what if?’, such as “What if I fail my exam?”, “What if something bad
happens to my child?”, “What if my partner leaves me?”.

Worrying is a natural process, but it can turn pathological when worries are more frequent, intense,
and difficult to gain control over. Worrying can then lead to a disturbance in our quality-of-life and
impair our functioning.

Why do we spend so much time on worrying about things that may never happen? Even though,
worrying makes us feel anxious. Apparently, it’s our beliefs about worrying that keep them going.
One of the most common beliefs that maintain worrying are: “worrying makes me prepared”, or
“something bad will happen if I don’t worry”. These beliefs implicate that there is something good
about worrying. However, can we really prevent bad things from happening by worrying about
them? Can we even answer any of the “what if” questions while asking them? It is almost as we are
trying to play psychics and foresee the future, let alone change its course with our thinking.

Another common belief that maintains worrying is: “If I worry it means that I care”. This type of a
belief is common in parents, who usually care about their children. A question we can ask ourselves
is, whether we can care for others without worrying about them. Does worrying make you a better
parent? Do your children (loved ones) know that you spend hours on worrying about them? Can
sitting and asking yourself questions “what if something happens to them” repeatedly can help them
in any way? If so, how? Do you feel better or worse after worrying for hours?

Sometimes people do not believe there’s anything good or useful about worrying, but they believe
they have no control over their worries. When asked why they wouldn’t stop worrying if it makes
them feel so anxious, they simply reply: “I can’t. I have no control over my worries”.

Who controls what we think about? Is it an external superpower? What happens when you worry,
and then your phone rings and you answer it? Are you still worrying while talking on the phone?
Worry is like having a conversation in your head, is talking something you can control? Do you worry
in response to all negative thoughts that enter your mind? How do you decide which worry is more
important?

If you happen to worry a bit too much, and would like to change that, metacognitive therapy can be
something you may give a try. This form of therapy aims to reduce the amount of time people spend
on worrying, and in consequence eliminate the feeling of anxiety caused by worrying.