Too much worry comes at a cost. Here are the techniques you can use to put your worry to work so you can manage it.
- Not all worry is bad.
- Too much worry comes at a cost.
- ADHD working memory challenges can exacerbate worry.
- There are techniques not to fuse with your worry.
- Pause before acting on your worry.
- Then either use techniques to either accept or create solutions for your worry
- Part 1 – ADHD and Avoiding Negative Thinking Traps
- Part 2 – ADHD and Avoiding Negative Thinking Traps
Do you ever feel like your worry takes over sometimes and maybe you even hyperfocus on it. But you’d really like to stop? You’ve tuned into Scattered Focused, Done Re-Imagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD adults like you who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins, and I’m glad you’re joining me today on this journey to re-imagining Productivity with ADHD, so you can get what is important to you done without trying to do it like everyone else.
Worrying isn’t all bad for ADHD adults. In fact, a certain amount of worrying can help motivate you. If you’re worried about ruining your car engine, you might be motivated to get your oil changed, right? But too much worry can come at a cost if it takes up much of your time and energy and causes inordinate stress, especially if there’s no benefit.
But you also shouldn’t try to avoid worrying because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Because you know that doesn’t work. The worrying, thoughts and discomfort, will just keep on popping up, right? Because there’s no amount of TV, food, or video games that can get your mind off what you’re worrying about. Because worrying is like a boomerang. But they can ricochet less when you use the strategies I’ll share with you.
First a bit about the relationship between ADHD and worry. While everyone worries. Adults with A DHD tend to get stuck in excessive worrying. One of the reasons for this is related to your ADHD working memory challenges. Remember, working memory is where you temporarily 10 to 15 seconds store information you are going to use to accomplish a task. For example, when you’re writing the introduction to report, you are holding in mind one sentence while you try to craft the next one.
The working memory challenge you have is that you have less capacity. So when your boss says at the end of one of your one-on-one meetings that he wants to talk to you about your career path, you might go into a worry spiral. You think it means something bad that he is going to fire you. As you are unable to hold in your working memory other reasons, he may have said that, like maybe a promotion. You’re also unable to work on the report that you’re going to do after the meeting because you are so worried. Your worry consumes all your working memory.
Obviously, this worry is unproductive both because you’re not able to entertain alternative perspectives that might help you get unstuck, and also because you’re not able to work on the report as you intended. You’re just not able to transition worrying to either solving the problem that is causing the worry or doing something entirely different.
It’s like a needle stuck on a record. Yes, I know I’m probably dating myself. Remember what records are. Anyway, if you had more working memory space, you might be able to think to yourself, maybe I could work on the report now and think about this later. Or before I go too far down the rabbit hole, I should talk it over with Mia. Or I should ask him your boss if he has a few minutes to meet again, and maybe I could get some clarification. But you aren’t able to hold these perspectives in mind or do the report. No doubt, you can’t afford to get hijacked by your worry. So let’s get on with looking at how you can minimize this from happening.
First step you can take is to accept your feelings and thoughts related to the situation that you’re worrying about. That doesn’t mean that you have to like them, of course, it just means that you’re accepting that they are.
Though I know you may be tempted to avoid your worry, I get it. It’s stressful and uncomfortable. But if you do this, you’ll end up likely magnifying it. Because trying to escape your worry is like telling yourself not to look at the pink elephant that’s in the middle of the room, right? Then your worry will likely come out sideways, like getting mad at someone when that person has nothing to do with what you’re worrying about. Well, you can’t unrun emotions like worry. You can learn to live with them with greater ease so they have less of a hold on over you.
The first step to do this is to remember that your worry is just words, sensations and images, not necessarily reality. When you decide that they’re true though and you fuse with them, that is what causes you pain. The next step you can take is to practice diffusion using acceptance and commitment therapy techniques such as those recommended by Happiness Trap author Russ Harris.
One technique to do this is to tell yourself, I’m having the thought. My boss doesn’t think I’m doing a good job and is going to let me go. You could go even further and tell yourself, I notice I’m having the thought. My boss doesn’t think I’m doing a good job and it’s going to let me go. You could take the thought and sing to yourself to the tune of Happy Birthday or maybe try hearing the thought in a cartoon character’s voice like Mickey Mouse. Lastly, take 10 deep breaths as slowly as possible and notice the sensation as you inhale and exhale.
As you practice these techniques, notice how the thought has less of a hook on you. The point is not to get rid of the worrying thought, but the goal is to lessen the hold the thought has over you and the impact it has on you. So you can take whatever action or actions seem right in the moment rather than being consumed by worry.
The next best thing you can do is nothing, really. Because you probably need time to decide what, if any, best next action you should take. Of course, the amount of time is dependent on the context. You might only wait a moment to get your bearings if your water heater is leaking and then you’ll need to jump into action obviously. But sometimes it may feel like an emergency when your worry kicks in and it might not even be an emergency, right?
If this is true for you, the first step is to be aware of what it feels like in your body when you’re starting to worry. Because when you know this, that can be your cue that you need to stop. So is it a pounding in your head or perhaps in your gut or someplace else? Wherever you feel it, rather than allow yourself to be consumed by worry, remind yourself it’s best to slow down and give yourself space and time you need.
Then decide how long you need to wait. Is it an hour, a few hours a day or more? Give yourself whatever time seems reasonable given the worry. Then hopefully you’ll be in a much better place to decide what, if anything you need to do about it. Then when you’re ready to decide what to do about your worry, it’s important that you externalize it as it’s too hard to address your worries if you’re letting it swirl about in your head.
There are a few ways you can do this. One is to talk to someone you trust. It could be a friend, family member or therapist. So you at least feel less alone. And talking to someone can also help you clarify your thoughts and feelings. You could also externalize your thoughts and feelings by writing them down. You obviously don’t get the benefit of interacting with another person. But the advantages is that you can write anywhere.
As you’re figuring out what to do with your worry, you also want to make sure that while your worry is real and that it’s not one of the negative thinking traps, including black and white thinking, personalizing, disqualifying the positive overgeneralizing, emotional reasoning, catastrophizing or jumping to conclusions. If you’re curious to learn more about these and whether your worry is due to distorted thinking, you can check out my post ADHD and avoiding negative thinking traps. I’ve included a link with this podcast on my website. Assuming your worry is not the result of distorted thinking, the next step is to decide whether you can or want to do something about the worry.
As Dr. Hallowell’s adaptation of the Serenity Prayer reminds us, there may be some things that we’re worried about that well, we can’t change or we choose not to change. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the insight to prioritize wisely what I want to change, the patience to resist trying to control everything I could had I the energy and time, the courage and the skill to change the things I have chosen to change and the wisdom to know the difference among all these.
For example, of course, you’re going to take care of the water heater leaking in the basement. But you may choose to let go of the offhanded comment John made in the hallway that felt hurtful. When you choose not to address something that you’re worrying about, the next step is to practice well acceptance. So you can truly let the worry go. And remember when you accept a situation rather than trying to change it, that does not mean that you like the situation or want it to be the way it is.
It just means you’re willing to accept that it is what it is. Perhaps because you have no control over making it different or that you’re choosing not to put the energy and time into trying to make it different. So you may decide that your Aunt Rose is going to grill you about your life when you see her at the family get together and you may even come up with what you’re going to say when that does happen. But you may choose not to try to change the fact that she’s going to do that, and you’re also not going to try to avoid her.
Another example where acceptance might be best is when you’re worried about something you said or did in the past that you may decide to somehow address the situation. For example, offer an apology if that’s what’s needed, but you know can’t undo what you said or did. You might also remind yourself that you did the best you could at the time and that you might also decide you can make different choices in the future. This could entail upgrading your skills in order to do this. Where might acceptance serve you about a worry you have right now or about something you said or did in the past.
Then if you decide that there’s something you’re worrying about that you’d like to change, the first step then is to specify exactly what it is that you want to change. The way you can do this is to ask yourself a few questions.
I’m using a hypothetical situation to demonstrate this. It’s about your colleague, Ben, who you think is not carrying his weight. The first question is, why is it a problem for you? You might answer that you think Ben is not doing his part and that you have to bear such a burden. You might go on to say that you want more balance in your life and you don’t want to work outside of work hours, and if Ben was doing his part, this would be better for you. The next question is, what is it that you’re trying to get rid of? You might answer, I want to get rid of the current heavy workload and get more time to spend outside of work.
The third question is, if you could achieve this change, what would be different for you? And you might answer, if I could make this happen, I wouldn’t use so much of my time and energy being angry at Ben. I would get more sleep for sure. I would also be just more content and happier. If my workload was doable, I’d have more time to enjoy outside of work. And the last question, on a scale of one to 10, how much do you want this change? A 10 for sure.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to craft a solution. The key to addressing your worry is to focus on what you want to achieve rather than what is wrong with the situation. That is you want to take a solution-focused approach. As you focus on the solution rather than the problem. You’ll be more optimistic about getting what you want and you’ll feel more in control of the situation. To do this, you’ll need to ask yourself another series of questions. Again, I’ve used the hypothetical situation of having a problem with your colleague Ben at work to demonstrate how to do this.
Number one, what do you want instead of the problem? That is, what do you want to achieve? I want a fair workload. Number two, write out what the solution will look like, including as much detail as possible. Ben and I will meet each week to make sure we are following through on our commitments, which we decide on at the beginning of each week. Then we will agree to renegotiate this if either of us feels the workload is not fair.
Number three, what is it about having this solution that is important to you? It’s important to me that the workload be fair and that I have better work-life balance. Number four, how will things be different when you arrive at this solution? Again, on a scale of one to 10, what will 10 look like when you have what you want? I’ll feel better when I’m working because I’ll feel like I’m not carrying more than my fair share, and hopefully I’ll have a better working relationship with Ben.
As we’ll both be pulling our weight and renegotiating when necessary. Five, what are the steps you need to take to accomplish this? I’ll come up with a suggested breakdown of our tasks. Then I’ll email Ben to ask to meet. I’ll email him my suggested plan before the meeting and we’ll meet and come up with a plan. Working toward a solution takes time and effort, but so does worrying, and so why not put your worry to work instead.
Choose something you’re worried about right now. Are you going to accept the situation because you either can’t or don’t want to put in the time and energy to change it? Alternatively, if it’s a problem you want to solve, how are you going to do that?
Dealing with your worries often isn’t easy, but you can do it step by step better than letting them swirl about in your head, taking up time and energy, right? That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, which I hope you have, pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might also benefit, and until next time, this has been Scattered Focus Done. And I’m Marla Cummins. Wishing you all the very best on your journey to re-Imagining Productivity with A DHD.