As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been taking a course on CBT and Anxiety Disorders online through the Beck Institute. It’s been really interesting to see in general how CBT relates to anxiety as well as to learn about anxiety disorders other than OCD. It’s been fascinating to see the differences and how the ideas of cognitive behavior therapy can help all of them in similar ways.
One concept that I liked learning about in relation to GAD or Generalized Anxiety Disorder was worry. Basically, for those with GAD, worry is more or less around most of the time; GAD sufferers can worry about any and everything. Like the course mentioned, OCD has specific worries and concerns that can be very pigeon holed and specific.
Sometimes people think that it’s weird that someone with contamination OCD can be so worried about pee or poop but not care at all about blood (or vice versa). Or why does a person freak out about whether or not they hit someone with their car accidentally or worry they ran over pedestrians but then have no problem speeding on the freeway? Our OCD worries are very narrow, though they can jump around.
This idea of “worry” is interesting to me. Usually I don’t think of my OCD in terms of “worrying.” I tend to think or talk about it as “fears” or “anxiety.” But really, “worry” works. We worry that something bad will happen or that something won’t happen if we don’t do our compulsion or don’t avoid something. OCD is glorified worrying with action attached.
One morning my husband was driving us down a narrow street in a city and a car passed by. It was a tight squeeze. He said something like “my anxiety level went from 0 to 1 when that happened.” I think I remarked that my anxiety was high just simply being on the street, let alone when the car drove past us.
For those with anxiety disorders, worry tends to preempt the situation. We worry to get ready for the situation. In the course, they talk about how anxiety “clients” often think that worry protects or prepares them from negative outcomes.
But does it really? Would I have been any more “ready” than my husband was when the car came past us on that narrow road? Or would my anxiety have created even more panic and made me less successful than he was? Or would it have been a wash, proving that “pre-worrying” really isn’t actually helpful?
So what do we do?
It is really difficult to control worry. If it was easy, we likely wouldn’t have such severe anxiety disorders, right?! There are methods, of course, that CBT or ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) can teach. But just being aware of the worries, nothing that they occur and then moving on from them without acting on them, are good first steps.
Worries, as I’ve learned, can be good and bad. Dr. Reid Wilson in his book, Stopping the Noise in Your Head, distinguishes between them by calling one “noise” and the other a “signal.” We want to learn to ignore and not pay attention to the unnecessary “noise” but learn from and thank the “signals” or helpful warnings that our brain gives us. Sometimes learning the difference between the two takes time—but it is worth it. Just remember that ruminating “pre worry” often is unhelpful and can create more anxiety if we indulge it.