And What Can You Do About it?
Do you worry too much?
About your future. Your friendships Your career. Your finances. Your body.
The list is endless, isn’t it?
According to the National Science Foundation, an average person’s thoughts are 80% negative. Thats’ a lot of negative thoughts per day!
We, all of us, are ‘engineered’ with what is known as a “negativity bias”.
Basically, this means that, all things being equal, we will naturally gravitate to the most negative interpretation of the facts. Or, as the Review of General Psychology puts it:
“The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes”
Why Negative Thoughts Come in Your Mind: When a Shadow is Always a Tiger
If you venture out of your cave for food, but see a long shadow behind the tree, you will conclude – correctly – that the chance of the shadow being a tiger outweighs the certain benefit of nourishing yourself with nuts and berries.
And evolution is slow-going, so what made sense 1000s of years ago makes less sense today.
So we worry a lot. And worrying is not all bad, as the tiger example shows, but too much of it can be harmful and counterproductive.
It depends of course. If your house just burned down, you may be worrying just the right amount to eventually solve the problem.
But if you are just chronically worried (‘We’re almost out of toothpaste and it’s going to snow tomorrow”, “Oh, I forgot to get a new snow shovel and Amanda needs mittens’, ‘oh, we can’t afford the good ones I want’ etc), that’s another matter.
There’s also “Luke will never get into university” and “What if Bella’s operation doesn’t go well?”
Or the vague, all-consuming “What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fail?”
Many people spend too much time worrying that everything they do is “not good enough”, and that others are so much better than them. “I feel like a fraud” is a pretty common phenomenon.
Others worry about disappointing people, or that other people are upset with them, and that other people are secretly miserable.
Obviously, this kind of constant negative thinking is not healthy. But if we are genetically programmed to have a negativity bias, what can we do about it?
For one thing, there’s a range of negativity bias, but the main point is to be aware, to stay on your toes, and not to allow negative thinking to dominate your life. How?
Considerations and Solutions
- Psychologists like to say that most of your worries have never happened.
Of course, this depends on you and the nature of your worries– if you worry that the bus or taxi to the airport might be late, well, maybe it has been a few times in the past!
But this is for the most part valid. Churchill once commented, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” *
So you can ask yourself: How many of the things I feared would happen in my life did actually happen?
Indeed, according to a study byScienceDirect, “91.4% of worries did not come true for those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)”.
If you consider that one-third of Americans will struggle with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, that’s over 100 million of us – and doesn’t even count us casual, part-time worriers!
* This quote has also been attributed to Montaigne, but Churchill always seems to get credit for everything!
- People don’t think much about what you do.
They really don’t – we just think they do! Remember, they are too busy thinking about what other people think of them! Think about stuff you care about, what you will do, what your plans are – and try to let the rest fall.
- Don’t get lost in vague fears
Always ask yourself honestly and realistically, what is the worst that could happen? Wait. I said realistically. Be honest. Then if you need to, spend some time figuring out what you can do if that happens. Now you have a plan in your back pocket – just in case.
- Don’t try to guess what’s on someone’s mind (aother one I am prey to).
Not only is there no point, this can lead to creating exaggerated, even disastrous scenarios in your mind.
That is, this can spiral out of control. Communicate. Ask what you want / need to ask.
Smell a grapefruit
Admit it. You didn’t see that one coming. Oh, OK, there’s a picture…
Breathing in certain aromas can help reduce stress. In a cancer hospital study in Ohio researchers tested the effect of pleasant-smelling essential oils by diffusing them in the central nurses station.
Oncology nurses -frequently suffer from work-related stress – reported significant improvements in tension, worry, and demands over the course of the study.
One of the essential oils tested was grapefruit, which is refreshing and revitalizing, and helped boost the body’s feelings of energy and happiness. For more see here.
- Try Forest Therapy or “Forest Bathing”
Walking in the woods and listening to the sounds of nature can reduce stress. Called shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bath” in Japanese, the preactive lowers stress hormone levels in comparison with with walking in an urban area.
“Studies have confirmed that spending time within a forest setting can reduce psychological stress, depressive symptoms, and hostility, while at the same time improving sleep, and increasing both vigor and a feeling of liveliness,” according to the book Your Brain on Nature “Japanese researchers found that 20 minutes of shinrin-yoku– compared with 20 minutes in an urban setting – altered cerebral blood flow in a manner that indicated a state of relaxation.”
- Stop the buzzing in your bed-head
Sleep can be magic. I literally can (usually) decide not to think about the things rattling around in my brain because I know most of it will seem overblown or irrelevant in the morning.
- Exercise. We favor intuitive fitness but that can encompass anything at any given time: from free weights to rowing to running with your dog. The point is that working out releases inner tensions and can help to make you more decisive and focused.
- Meditation for negative thoughts
You can also practice the disrupt and reconnect method: if you start to worry, say to yourself STOP! Then just take 1-2 minutes to focus fully on what is going on around you, Feel it, hear it, smell it, sense it. Breathe.
- Finally, if you find that your worries are not solvable, accept the uncertainty.