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This reading group guide forThe End Of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stopincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Will van der Hart and Rob Waller. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In The End of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stop, Will van der Hart and Rob Waller expose the reasons behind our worry, why we love to worry, and how to overcome it. Worry is a process—and as we actually follow through on the process and become comfortable with uncertainty, we can learn to live with a healthy level of worry. No longer do worriers have to struggle to just get over it, trust God, read the Bible more, or have more faith. Will and Rob offer solid, proven techniques to eliminate guilt and embrace risk, and not let worry have the last say.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The authors present the typical Christian’s dilemma as between being consumed by worry and ashamed about a lack of faith and trust in God. How does this compare to your experience with worry? Do you feel that faith and trust are the opposite of worry?
2. In the introduction, the authors discuss the Myers-Briggs personality questionnaire. Have you taken the Myers-Briggs? How would you rate your level of neuroticism, and how do you think that affects the other aspects of your Myers-Briggs results?
3. Will talks about being genuinely and justifiably worried as his son battles illness. Have you ever felt this way? How did it differ from your normal experiences of worry?
4. “Worriers need to stay with the threats they perceive long enough to realize they don’t actually pose a risk” (page 34). Have you ever discovered that an object of your worry was actually harmless? How did you discover this, and how did it change your perspective on that thing afterward?
5. The authors discuss “floating worries,” which are different from actionable concerns. What are your typical floating worries? How persistently do you worry about them?
6. Worry affects our bodies, our minds, and how we feel and make others around us feel. Often worriers will avoid situations that cause worry, but Will and Rob recommend facing worries head-on. What would this look like in your life? Is this a principle useful in other areas of life?
7. Worriers also worry about worrying. The authors are clear that compassion in your self-talk is key to avoiding a never-ending cycle of worry even as you work through the process of conquering your worry. How does it feel to try to bring compassion into your self-talk? What feelings and emotions do you end up confronting when you try to accept yourself without judgment?
8. The authors talk about the “magical thinking” of worrying—the idea that parents worrying about their bike-riding child can somehow, through worrying, prevent an accident. How have you found those kinds of magical thinking in your own life? Is there any validity to the idea that our thoughts can change reality?
9. How does your worry change the people around you? How have you found your worry affecting your family, friends, the people you love?
10. Will talks about riding roller coasters solely for how it represents his conquering worry. Do you resonate with his phrase “I feel afraid— yes! Bring it on”? What are activities you could do that would give you the opportunity to feel afraid and yet soldier on in spite of that fear?
11. The authors talk about superstitious actions such as creating tests for God (like Gideon’s fleece) or using Bible verses as fortune-telling devices. Have you ever tried any of those techniques to alleviate your worry? Did they work? Why do you think they did or did not?
12. “The paradox of any search for certainty is that it invariably creates the opposite sentiment: doubt!” (page 111). Have you found this to be true? Why do you think that is? Is there certainty to be found in anything?
13. “Indeed, we follow a Savior whose journey led to the cross and crucifixion, so it would seem odd for us to wish for a stress-free life” (page 175). What does this mean for you? Are Christians able to live stress-free?
14. Present contemplation is one of the techniques the authors recommend as a spiritual practice for overcoming worry. Try this and then reflect on the experience. How did you feel during the contemplative practice? How could this practice help you in your journey toward healing?
15. After reading this book, do you feel prepared to commit to the hard work of healing from excessive worry? What steps do you think will be the easiest? The hardest?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Share the answers from your exercises with the group. Talk about which ones you found easy and which were more difficult. Discuss your experiences: are you comfortable with overcoming worry, and where do you need the most help?
2. Exercise: Play a game where each person writes down an everyday activity on a note card. For example, “Drive the car to the mall and go shopping.” Pass the cards to your left. On the card you receive write down one possible disaster that could take place. For example, “Crash the car” or “Get mugged” or “Nothing at the mall fits me.” Pass the card to your left again and on the next card you receive write down a new disaster—make sure it’s worse than the ones that came before it. When your card gets back around to you, read the worst-case scenarios on the cards and discuss how likely they are. Plan an activity that would challenge the anxieties of your group. Be smart, though: going on a roller coaster, riding the subway—good ideas. Jumping off of a roller coaster or licking a subway bathroom floor—bad ideas.
A Conversation with Will van der Hart and Rob Waller
How did you two find each other in order to write a book together?
Rob and I first met at the University of Cambridge, where Rob was reading medicine and I was reading theology and education. We had remained friends but reconnected professionally in 2006 at The Boat Race, where we discussed our shared passion for Christian spirituality and mental health. We have been working and writing together as Mind and Soul (www.mindandsoul.info) ever since.
Worry is a difficult subject for churches. How can the church community as a whole encourage and empower worriers to be more open about their struggles without fear of pat answers or platitudes? How do you see churches actually contributing to the anxiety of their members?
We think it is essential that churches be more open to listening to human struggle across the board, not just in the area of worry. If church culture is closed and judgmental, people tend to keep up pretenses and a lot of dysfunction remains hidden just below the surface. If, however, churches are places where people feel safe to express their true hurts, fears, and anxieties, there is real hope for healing and restoration.
In the worst cases, churches can compound the anxieties of their members by making human emotions tantamount to sin. Stigma can be rife. The reality, however, is that Jesus was the most emotionally complete person ever to live, expressing the full range of feelings.
In your experience with people who worry, what is the most difficult part of overcoming worry?
In our opinion it is twofold. First, it is the “overestimation of threat” aspect. This leaves people convinced that their worries are more realistic than they really are. Second is the “intolerance of uncertainty” aspect, as this sends people on an eternal search for an assurance that can never be found. Once these two problems have been overcome (or at least defined and explained as uncertain and unsolvable with the usual problem-solving techniques), recovery comes much more easily.
How do the worries of the Western world compare with the worries in other parts of the world? Have you worked with anyone outside the American context?
Will: I have worked in Africa, where there are very real threats that we don’t face in Europe or America, such as cholera or malaria. You may think that these threats would make African people more worried than us, or that we should worry less and be thankful for our lot. However, people are typically people and everyone in both the developing world and the Western world suffers from worry. People’s themes may differ but their emotions are a universal human component!
When surfing in Australia as an Englishman I was amazed at how relaxed the Australians were about sharks. I was terrified! Having surfed with Australians in England I am amazed about how worried they are about the cold. I don’t care! The key thing is that the worry is out of proportion to the threat and has an impact on how the person is living.
Are there philosophies and religions that have a better handle on worry?
We honestly think that Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 6 is the best and most liberating teaching on worry in the history of the world. We just wish that Christian pastors and teachers were better at explaining it in the way that Jesus intended it! We have devoted part of the book to this.
We recommend some things that are nonreligious (such as techniques to get a good night’s sleep), some things that most religions and philosophies share (like the ideas of contemplation and being mindful), and some things that are unique to Christianity (the role of prayer, a focus on a compassionate Jesus, and a hope of better things to come).
Christians seem especially prone to judging and guilt. Why do you think this is?
Well, that is a question we hoped you would ask, since it is the subject of our forthcoming book on the problem of guilt, which we hope will also be available through Simon & Schuster!
Will, tell us about the London bombings—how are they still affecting you, your family, your congregation?
The London bombings had a really big impact upon my life, and obviously that strongly affected my wife, Louie. I have moved out of central London now, but I know my old church still carries the emotion impact of that difficult time. Obviously, compared with 9/11 the London bombings were a relatively small event, but any trauma of that kind, particularly because it was caused deliberately, has a very powerful impact upon you and your community.
I travel on the tube (subway) every week and I still get nervous sometimes, especially if there is someone in my carriage with a lot of luggage. Even though I was not on one of the trains, these things live on in the imagination and can be powerful in triggering episodes of worry.
Are there any stories of worriers that you had to cut from the book? It’s always nice to hear about people with worse problems than you.
We have aimed this book at people who struggle with worry but do not need professional help. It is based on cognitive therapy principles, but some people will need actual therapy from a trained cognitive behaviour therapist.
Rob: In my work, I have met people whose worry has caused them to lose weight and all their friends, or whose worries about future events such as the afterlife and sins they might have committed have left them severely affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder and also limited their ability to enjoy their faith.
Will, you’ve talked on your blog about “growing down” when it comes to relating to people with mental health issues. Is this a concept that is applicable in many areas of life?
If there is one virtue that Jesus demonstrates more than any other, it is humility. He was the Humble King. Society today is so consumed with getting ahead by judging and boxing others that humility has become countercultural.
The concept of growing down came from watching my kids. I saw how accepting and open they were toward people. I guess that if modern-day “growing up” means becoming judgmental and ambitious at someone else’s expense, we need to think about growing the other way!
Dr. Rob Waller is a consultant psychiatrist working for the National Health Service in Scotland and an Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. Rob partners with Will in the Mind and Soul organization.