Friday, October 17, 2008

The Worry Cycle

Your dominoes don't actually go in a straight line. The consequence domino repeatedly seems to move from the end of the line and convert itself to the life domino which once more topples your thinking domino. When this happens your life becomes controlled by a circle of dominoes. Being stuck in this cycle is like being stuck in a sticky spider web from which it is impossible to struggle free.

The Worry Cycle Diagram shows what it is like to constantly run around and around in circles. This diagram is entitled the Worry Cycle because when the circle is well established, you feel like you are being controlled by outside forces.

Some improvement programs, including some professional therapies, merely focus on changing only one of these elements of the cycle. More current approaches have shown that this is often not sufficient. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, has perceived that merely getting a drunk to be sober is not enough. This is only the first step in recovery. The second is to learn how to live. Cognitive therapy has currently become the best follow-up procedure for getting people to break the underlying causes of their addictions.

Willpower is also not enough. Just the plain fact of your reading this material means that you probably have enough will power. What you lack are the skills to change each of the four pieces holding the Worry Cycle together: Thought, Emotions. Stress, Behavior.

You will notice from the Worry Cycle diagram that worry is the balance point from external events to internal events. It is also the second domino in the series and the first one you really have any control over.

Worry is Universal
Worry is another global human experience in addition to the quest for Happiness. Worry is a very democratic process because it affects all groups of people in all walks of life. Worry is one of the most common human tendencies; every person has at one time or another worried about something.

Most of the problems you have struggled with in your life may be related to the amount of time you have spent worrying. It is likely that worry has been with us since people have been able to think and yet it is probably one of the most common human activities while at the same time one of the most useless.

What is Worry?
Worry is distorted thinking. Cognitive therapists point out four levels of thinking: perceptions, interpretations, predictions, and beliefs. Distortions can occur at any of these levels. The first level deals with how you perceive the raw data of your existence. It concerns itself with your impressions of specific situations, events, and all the things around you.

These perceptions are derived from your five senses. Since your brain is not a perfect machine, these perceptions can be distorted. These misrepresentations can be influenced by memories of past experiences. It feels as if your mind is playing tricks on you.

The second level of worry can occur when your brain is dealing with interpretations of these perceived events. Psychologists often call this level of thinking by a variety of names: automatic thinking, silent assumptions, or conditional beliefs. These assumptions tend to be tentative in nature. It is often difficult to be completely aware of the interpretations you make. With a little bit of effort your interpretations will become more apparent to you.

Predictions, the third level, often take the form of "if ..., then ..." One of my clients would constantly make predictions about his anxiety by saying, "If my anxiety becomes too strong, then I will die from a heart attack." When he was eventually able to test out this prediction he found it to be completely groundless.

When perceptions, interpretations, and predictions become repetitive over an extended period of time, they often get converted to belief systems. Distorted beliefs are the most basic of all types of worry, the most pervasive, the most powerful and the most difficult to change. These distorted beliefs tend to be experienced as absolute convictions about life: about yourself, about others or about the relationship between the two. These beliefs can then double back on you and further affect the accuracy of your perceptions, interpretations, and predictions.

For you to adequately learn the four skills – cognitive restructuring, emotional supervision, stress management, behavior control -- you will need to set aside time each day for reading and learning, you may have to cut back on other activities which are currently in your life but are not as important as learning skills for breaking the Worry Cycle. You will need to commit yourself to working on these techniques even though they may appear difficult and tedious.

The major tool you have at your disposal is repetition. You need to keep repeating your new skills until you have it mastered them. How long this takes is really unimportant. If you need to spend more time learning these skills than some other person, that is okay. Please don't compare your rate of progress with anyone else — either real or imagined.

Self help may seem impossible for you if your experience in learning has been a negative one. You need not fear learning, even though in the past you may have had a bad experience with it. All people are capable of learning. Scientists have shown over and over again that even severely developmentally disabled individuals are capable of learning very complicated tasks. It is just that we all learn at different rates of speed and in different ways. The quickness with which you learn has nothing to do with your final success in this program.
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