Worrying is not mental health insurance

Just the way insurance on your home does not prevent you from floods, fires, or other catastrophes, worrying is not insurance against future emotional challenges.

Yet, strange as it may sound, both anxiety and worry often come from an unconscious part of you that thinks otherwise. It believes that with enough planning, rehearsing and imagining, you can offset future emotional pain. Unfortunately, that only adds extra misery as it increases current anxiety and rumination.

If there is no real utility in over-thinking, planning and stressing, why do people persist in ruminating on the worst possible outcomes? Because imagining bad things can, paradoxically, give you an illusion of control. It’s easy to think: If I steal myself for the worst case scenarios then, if they happen, I will be more prepared to handle them emotionally and practically. While therapists in the past, like Dr. Albert Ellis, vociferously espoused this view, and it can be useful, it can also amp up anxiety and its somatic cousin: tension myositis syndrome (TMS).

Just as I would never suggest someone live without home insurance, if they can afford it, I also think it’s good to have health insurance, regularly go to the dentist, and get a yearly check up. Those are all ways to protect yourself and vastly different from the self-torture of incessant worst-case scenario ruminations. In other words, some planning and proactive behavior is helpful, overdoing it can feel oppressive.

Worry and anxiety can develop from a variety of causes: genetic predispositions, trauma, a tendency to overthink, and self-protection. The part that wants to protect you is the one that tries to figure out every possible negative outcome and prepare you for it. This often results in physical feelings of anxiety as one imagines bad situations. No matter what the sources of your anxiety and tendency to ruminate, you can learn to work wisely with them.

There are many suggestions on this website for how to handle rumination and anxiety. While nothing will work 100% of the time, the more tools in your toolbox, the more confident you will feel in your ability to befriend the demons when they show up. This allows you to feel safer, which is an immediate antidote to amped up anxiety and worry.

Paradoxically, allowing yourself to feel your feelings, while difficult, is the most effective strategy. The practice of noticing and naming them is particularly powerful. 

While you can’t change your history, you can work with what shows up. Self-compassion is the path to feeling better. That includes not hating what you’re feeling, wishing it away, or criticizing yourself for how you’re feeling. 

In some ways, the tools and techniques on this website are all a form of mental health insurance. Whether you’re having trouble with insomnia, setting boundaries, healthy self-care, grief, mind-body issues, or almost anything else that brings you down, learning these strategies, and practicing them regularly, will help you handle life’s vicissitudes and feel more confident doing so.

While these strategies will not banish all the challenges you face, they will certainly help and soothe you along the way.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.