Be proactive: test your worries to see if they’re valid

Two small boys in red and blue costumes and masks

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Sarah was unaware of the sheer number of her worries. Her brain continually circled round dozens of “what ifs.” But she was so busy worrying, she avoided facing up to her fears. Are you like Sarah? Be proactive, and test your worries to see if they’re valid. Chances are, most of them are useless

Worry is useless

Sarah worried non-stop about her children. Her worry habit was kept alive by her beliefs about the usefulness of worry. She thought that worrying would keep her children safe, stop them having problems, and show she cared.

However, we’ve already seen how unhelpful these beliefs were.

So how could Sarah have dealt more effectively with her fears for her children?

A more effective strategy

Firstly, Sarah needed to find out what she said to herself when she worried. Then she’d know exactly what terrible things she thought might happen.

However, she never described her worries to herself. Doing so upset her so much, that she avoided it.

So she could never be proactive and test her worries, to see if they were valid or not. She simply assumed that if she could imagine all these problems, then they really would happen.

1 Tap into worry thoughts

For example, Sarah worried her younger son Martin was being rejected at school.

This produced the following stream of worries:

“What if the other kids don’t like Martin? No one will pick him for their team. He’ll be all alone at school and he could get bullied. How will he get through the day with no-one to be friends with? What if he never has any friends ever? He’ll never have anyone over to play. And he’ll be lonely for the rest of his life. He’ll be a loner at work, and might never have a partner. I can’t stand thinking about it. It’s just too sad.”

Every time the initial worry popped up, she’d tumble down the same cascade of worries. And these worries painted a terrible picture of Martin’s future – even years down the track.

Of course, that made her feel even more anxious. 

Similarly, when she worried about her children’s health, she thought: 

“What if the children get sick with some awful disease? They could catch anything at school. How would I know if it was really serious? And what if it had permanent side effects? How would they ever get a job or buy a house? It’d wreck their lives.”

Again, she felt distraught when these “what ifs” circled round her head.

2 Be proactive: test your worries 

So Sarah’s head was full of worst-case scenarios. Sadly, she never saw how extreme these worries were. And she didn’t think of actually checking them out, to see if they were likely to happen. 

For example, she could have asked Martin’s teachers if he was making friends or not. For all she knew, Martin was doing just fine.

Or she could have chatted to her GP about common childhood illnesses.

Sarah couldn’t bear to check these things out, in case her worst fears were confirmed. Then what would she do?

She didn’t know how she could help anyway. So she just kept worrying, hoping it would solve everything. 

But worrying is different to taking real action. 

3 How realistic are your worries? 

Be careful not to fall into the same trap as Sarah. Test your worries to see if they are in fact, realistic and likely to happen. 

So regarding Martin’s friends, Sarah could talk to: 

Her husband to see if he thought there was a problem

Martin’s teachers to see if he was making friends or not

Other parents about how their children made friends.

This way, she could gather useful information. Then she’d see if there really was a problem or not. 

4 Don’t keep asking for reassurance 

However, gathering information isn’t the same as always getting others to tell you there’s no problem. Many anxious people constantly try to get others to reassure them that everything’s OK.

For a short time, this can make them feel less anxious. But after a few minutes, their old worries kick in again. They don’t really believe what the other person has said.

So constantly seeking reassurance doesn’t work. In fact, it’s been shown to make people feel more anxious in the long run. 

If you tend to do this, see if you can stop yourself. Make the intervals between each request longer, even if it’s only by a few minutes each time.

Focus your attention on something interesting, or do some exercise to divert your thoughts. Accept the urge to keep asking, and tell yourself you can wait a little longer. 

On the other hand, testing out your worries is more about talking over a situation with someone you trust.

It should help you decide if you really need to worry or not. And if there is a real issue, you can get some ideas about how to deal with it. Then you can take action instead of worrying.  

5 Inform yourself

So Sarah needs more information about the things she’s worried about. Then she could judge more easily if there was a problem or not.

With the extra support, she’d feel more confident dealing with any issues in the future.

For instance, she could:

Read information by child psychologists about children’s friendships

Learn signs that showed a child may be having friendship problems

Notice how Martin mixed with other children

Chat to Martin about children he liked or disliked

Give Martin tips about how to make friends

Invite children to their house to see how they played together

Ask Martin if he’d like to join an activity group or sport

Talk with Martin about friendships shown in films or videos

Teach Martin to be assertive with others

Teach Martin to tell his parents or teachers if he’s being bullied.

Any of these could help Sarah and/or Martin learn how to deal with the situation. As it was, she kept on thinking that both she and Martin were helpless. 

Example 2: Fears of children falling ill

Sarah also worried that her children would catch all sorts of terrible childhood illnesses. Being more proactive would stop her worries, and therefore her distress, from running rampant.   

For example, she could: 

Talk to the doctor to find out if her fears were well-founded or not

Read about signs, symptoms and treatment of childhood illnesses

Have her children vaccinated at the appropriate ages

Talk to other parents about illnesses their children had

Feed her children healthy food

Make sure her children exercised where possible

Teach her children basic hygiene

Know emergency numbers to ring if necessary

Accept that the medical system wasn’t perfect

Trust she’d taken sensible steps to keep her children healthy

Accept that no-one can control everything in life

Accept the small chance that anyone may get sick.

6 Be proactive, not avoidant

Again, by being proactive and testing her fears, Sarah would find out if they were valid or not. And she would become more confident about dealing with illnesses in the future.

However her worry levels were so high, that she couldn’t imagine herself coping at all. So she avoided thinking about the whole issue. That way, she never discovered her worries were totally out of perspective.

Avoidance spreads

So as long as Sarah worried, she didn’t realise she wasn’t taking action. That meant she could avoid actually doing anything useful.

In the same way, Sarah avoided doing anything about her other worries. For instance, she couldn’t bear to think about death or leaving her young children alone in the world. So she didn’t make a will to protect her children if she and/or her husband died.

She couldn’t bear to take out life insurance for the same reason. And she refused regular health checks for herself as well.

Her fear of finding out she was terminally ill was even greater than her fear of leaving the children alone.

Yet in reality, Sarah was healthy. There was little likelihood she’d die for many years, apart from being in an accident.

7 Realise worry is self-defeating

So worry led Sarah to avoid taking action in case she or her husband were to die unexpectedly. But without a will, no-one would know who was to care for their children. And yet, she worried about this constantly.

Worry also made Sarah avoid finding out how to help her son make friends. And it also stopped her from learning how to keep her children healthy.

But she couldn’t see that worry made her avoid doing these sensible things. Or that her inaction could sometimes cause more problems down the track.  

Sarah couldn’t see how self-defeating worry was. 

Be proactive and test your worries

So don’t follow Sarah’s example. Be proactive and test your worries to see if they’re actually valid. Once you’ve defined them more clearly, check them out with others.

But make sure you talk to people with good judgment, or the right qualifications.

So for health worries, don’t trawl round the internet for information. Go to your GP or a specialist, or go to a reputable site like the Mayo Clinic.

Check out education worries with your child’s teachers. There are plenty of easy-to-understand books written by experts in just about every field you can think of. 

Don’t just keep worrying. Instead, decide to take action to learn more about the issue. See if you really have any cause to worry in the first place.

If you do, then face up to the issue and take sensible action. Otherwise, use mindfulness to let your worries go. Choose to focus your attention on something more worthwhile in your life.

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