From panic shopping to media obsession, there is no shortage of worry going around. This new situation led me to become curious about how worry impacts our mental health.
In light of Covid-19, I’ve been thinking around the role of worry in these times. As anxiety, uncertainty, and social isolation have grown,we need to take care of our mental health as well as our physical health.
Is worrying helpful?
Worrying can be helpful or harmful, depending on the type of worry. It is helpful when focused on practical short-term actions, but it is harmful when focused on abstract ideas about the future that lead to repeat thoughts and no action.
In simple terms, worry is unpleasant emotions and thoughts about the future. These thoughts begin to act like a can play over, replaying the same things over and over.
The emotion/sensation is usually fear, and the thoughts generally involve catastrophic things/scenes/happenings—for example, a pervasive fear regarding the thought of potentially being infected by a virus.
Unhelpful Forms of Worry
Unhelpful forms of worry are usually on repeatedly thinking about issues out of your control. Since you cannot do anything about issues beyond your control, your mind is busy by worrying. Worrying feels productive but it is doing nothing to resolve the problem.
When worry becomes harmful to parts of your life, it may be helpful to think about if you are using worrying as a way to feel busy. This can give the illusion of control, this type of worrying takes away your ability to take control.
When you worry your brain, your fight or flight response turns on, reducing activity in the higher prefrontal cortex, the area associated with control over one’s behavior. When worry spirals out of control, it leads to intense fear and paralysis.
In addition to limiting one’s ability to take practical actions to reduce the worry, it narrows one’s ability to move toward any valued directions in life.
Luckily, if you find yourself falling into this form of unhelpful worry, there are things you can do to regain balance.