What Worry Does to Your Driving Fears (and Your Life)

by on January 21, 2014

worryThings like overdue bills, undercooked meat and even squirrels can give us plenty to worry about on a daily basis. But letting that worry run rampant in our lives can not only add explosive fodder to your driving fears, but it can start to ruin your health and rule your life. 

How Worry Evolves

While worry can eventually lead to heightened stress, anxiety and more fuel for your driving fears, it typically takes some time for it rev into full gear. Worry usually starts as a simple thought. But add a layer of anxiety to that thought and a possibility turns into a worry-producing realty.

Let’s say you’re driving down the road and you have a thought like “I could hit a squirrel.” Since your driving fears already leave you riddled with anxiety, that thought might quickly turn into the idea that “I will hit a squirrel.”

When you’re stocked with anxiety, Psych Central tells us it’s tougher to discern between a thought that is a possibility and the reality or inevitably of a situation. The thought thus becomes your reality, and in this case the very real belief that you will hit a squirrel.

The scientific term for such a phenomenon is cognitive fusion, which is cleverly defined by doctor and psychotherapist Russ Harris as the state of being so tangled up in our thoughts that we let them push us around.

Worry of hitting a squirrel, which cognitive fusion has ensured has become the inevitability of hitting a squirrel, can certainly push you around. Perhaps you’ll change your course, drive only in areas where no squirrels have been spotted for decades or give up driving altogether to avoid the situation.

Worry and Your Driving Fears

As evidenced by the above example, worry can add to your existing fears or even create new ones. For instance, the thought of inevitably hitting a squirrel can add another layer of panic and woe to your existing driving fears, which had previously never touched on the possibility of hitting a scampering rodent.

That same squirrel-hitting thought can also start a whole new catalog of fears by opening a new chapter in the fear book. Now instead of suffering from driving fears that may have included driving on highways or bridges, you may develop a new fear of driving around trees or parks where squirrels are known to roam.

What Worry Does to Your Body 

The scrambling squirrel thoughts racing around your brain can do a doozy on your mind, but worry can also affect the rest of your body. Worry can result in:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Sweating, trembling and twitching
  • Headaches, muscle aches and muscle tension
  • Difficulty concentrating and swallowing
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • A buildup of nervous energy 

Unless you cope with that buildup of nervous energy and overload of stress hormones by releasing it, it can eventually result in even more severe health issues. These include:

  • Disorders in the digestive system
  • Short-term loss of memory
  • Early coronary artery disease and heart attack 

Releasing all that stress, whether through physical exercise, meditation or talking it out with friends or a therapist, is one way to seek relief. But you can also go one better by teaching your mind not to worry in the first place, with tips to come in an upcoming post.

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Photo Credit: spaceodissey via Compfight cc

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