Why Worry?

I was reading Brian’s blog post (a new blogger I just started following) in which he talked about being a worrier. We all are worriers, to some extent, because we’ve learned by now that life isn’t a happy little stroll down a path without having also had the experience of some bumps and potholes in the road on which we’re traveling.

When I was working in the office of a psychological practice, one of the therapists used to have a frame on the wall of her office where she changed out printed quotes inside it every 2 – 3 weeks. When I asked her about it, she told me that she realized that the quote wouldn’t affect all of her clients within that time frame, but there was a good chance it would be a light-bulb moment for one client and a better chance that someone would remember the quote and pass it on to someone who needed it.

When I commented on Brian’s post, I used one of her quotes that has stuck with me all of these years and which, indeed, I have passed on quite often. The quote is, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Jane also shared with me a ‘game’ that she would play with clients who were not able to ever stop worrying, especially about small things (at least small in the grand scheme of things). She called her game “What’s the Worst That Can Happen”. She explained it to me with a (hypothetical?) example. A father is worried that his son, a senior in high school, the star player on the school’s football team and already offered a scholarship to two different colleges. The son had been having occasional muscle cramps in his right calf over the summer before senior year, and dad was worried that something would happen to permanently injure his son to the point of not being able to play and losing the two offers for scholarships. The father is asked, “If he loses those scholarships, what’s the worst that can happen?” and replies that his son will have to take out school loans in order to afford college. When the father is asked, “If he has to take out school loans, what is the worst that can happen?” and this goes on and on, taking each reply and countering it with “if that occurs, what’s the worst that can happen?” Finally, the father was asked, yet again, “what’s the worst that can happen?” and he stopped for a moment, thought about it, then said, “I guess that’s the worst.” For him, the worst was that his son would have student loans hanging over his head for a good number of years. Um, don’t we all know at least one person who has paid or is paying off student loans???? But in the hypothetical example, we can see how worrying to the extent that the father was worrying was almost obsessive.

Psychologists will tell you that worry is controllable, and using this form of thought replacement can certainly work to validate this belief. Worry is considered to create a milder form of distress than anxiety does. Worry tends to be more focused on thoughts in our heads, while anxiety is more visceral in that we feel it throughout our bodies, so with some good cognitive thinking skills, we should be able to keep the thoughts that make us worry under more control.

And yet, there are those psychologists that will suggest that some people are wired to worry intentionally, albeit on a subconscious level, that is to say that they worry on purpose? Why would anyone do that?

One thought that immediately comes to my mind has to do with ‘drama‘. There are people who thrive on living life that seems to be always in an uproar or filled with chaos. These are the people we know who have mastered the art of “making mountains out of mole hills”. I’m not educated enough to know why, but I suspect that these people use that constant unrest to fill a hole in their lives that is missing. For some, it may also be stirring the pot out of a need for attention, or to hide their insecurity behind.

What we all need to consciously recognize is that worry is about the future, the possibility of something happening that will change the future than how we see it happening. Whether we’re worrying about ourselves or another, when we worry, we express a fear inside us because we can’t control what may happen to be the outcome we desire. And, as I said before, it’s natural for us to worry and we all do it from time to time. But worry doesn’t have to become our focus to the point where we’re consumed by it and that it affects us in a deep level. I play the “What’s the Worst That Can Happen” inside my own head (yes, in essence, I talk to myself) whenever worry gets to be burdensome. Sure, the worst could be a disaster or even death, but we know we have no say in how and when death will occur for any of us. And it’s okay to feel fearful of losing a loved one, but we must remind ourselves that this thing called death is going to happen to all of us, whether we like it or not.

Don’t let your worry take over for your fear of what might happen. Remind yourself that you have no control over with might happen and if you are feeling fearful, either try to find the root of the fear and address it or ignore it and spend time being in the moment of the here and now, not in the yet unknown future.

Worry versus Anxiety

I have a best friend who is a worrier. She worries to the point that she loses sleep from worrying. I’ve been thinking about ways I could help her with that, and since she reads my blog, I thought maybe I’d share an exercise here that I use on myself. Because, as I’m fond of saying, “Worry is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.” So here is what I do in my head, using a real-life example:

Question: What is the worst thing that could happen if you get the vaccine? Answer: I could die from it.

Question: Is that a realistic worry? Answer: No.

Question: What is the worst thing realistically that could happen if you get the vaccine? Answer: I could have the same thing that happens when I get an intramuscular shot and my arm will not only be sore but be swollen and reddened and hot.

Question: What is the worst thing that will happen if you arm reacts like that? Answer: I will be in moderate pain for up to three days with very limited use of my arm.

Question: What is the worst thing that will happen if you are in that kind of pain for that amount of time? Answer: I will not be able to do anything but lay down and feel sorry for myself.

Question: What is the worst thing that will happen if you lay down and feel sorry for yourself? Answer: I will waste time that I could be using to do other things.

Question: What is the worst thing that will happen if you waste time you could spend doing other things? Answer: Things won’t get done, plus I’ll get behind on my reading goal.

Question: What is the worst thing that will happen if you don’t get things done or fall behind on your reading goal? Answer: To be honest, it will be like those days when my energy level is depleted to the level that I just lay around.

Question: So what is it that are you worried about… again?

See how that works? I’m still anxious about the shot and the effects of it, because I know what that pain is like and would rather not experience it, but in the scheme of things, it’s not really something I need to be worked up about so much than it consumes my thoughts and keeps me from getting rest! And as a result of this exercise, I will be at an appointment in 5 hours’ time for the first shot. Now, I’m much more anxious about the second shot because I’ve heard a myriad of different experiences from people after receiving it, but even if it puts me down for a couple of days, I already know that in the big picture, it’s not something to worry about. I don’t like being down (I had bronchitis about 7 years ago that had me in bed for two weeks) but this isn’t anything that’s going to affect my life long-term. And the pride I will feel having faced the anxiety and fear and having conquered it will bring its own reward.

So, next time you are feeling worried (especially you, bestie!), work it out this way and let go of the worry that something drastic will happen. All of your worry isn’t going to change the fact that what will be, will be!

Balancing Worry and Preparedness

There is still news now and again about a “second wave” of COVID-19 headed our way this fall. With the general election for President of the United States looming in the near future, it seems that news is taking precedent, with less than 30 days before election day. Once that is over, no matter the outcome, the pandemic is likely to become the forefront of the news again.

Having survived the initial onset of COVID-19, I’m sure I’m not the only one who is still numb to much of the information being presented about it. I do worry about it, not so much for myself but for how it affects the many people living in our country, as well as the world. And yes, sometimes I wonder if I should be stocking up on toilet paper while there is still some available.

It’s the time of year now where I start ‘nesting’, making sure the pantry is full in case of bad winter weather, so I don’t quarrel with myself about whether I’m stock-piling canned goods in case of a second wave. But it is in the back of my mind that I need to be prepared for its possibility nonetheless. My bestie and I are going to do an abbreviated girls’ day out next week. It will be our first one since last fall, and we’ve not been out for our monthly lunches since the one we had in February. I’ve been to her home a couple of times – and the clan will be gathering to order delivery from our favorite Italian place on Saturday in ‘celebration’ of Labor Day. I haven’t been there since July. I tend to see her by meeting her in the parking lot where and when she gets to work, exchanging food goodies and books.

I have friends who are still exhibiting anxiety from the original COVID-19 pandemic. If I’m a little bit worried about a second wave, I can’t help but wonder what they are feeling! One friend in particular is still mourning and bemoaning all of the things her family couldn’t do this summer and even triggered memories of times past on her social media only incites that moaning even more. I struggle dealing with that; a part of me wants to remind her that a.) she’s not the only one and b.) she’s got a lot of wonderful memories of annual vacations and time spent doing what she loved that many of us don’t have. I struggle with the inability to look at any kind of positive and constantly nose-diving into the moans of negativity.

COVID-19 changed the world for all of us! None of us has, and we will never have, that “back to normal” possibility. We need to face that there is only a “new normal” for us in store. When (I refuse to believe “if”) this pandemic has finally left its mark on all of us and our world’s history and has finally released us from being hostages to it, nothing we knew before will be the same again. Most of us will take some of the healthiness about social distancing and shaking hands, etc., with us. As a hugger by nature, this will be difficult for me, especially when seeing someone I haven’t seen in (what seems like) forever due to it.

I start physical therapy for my shoulder/arm next week. Knowing my low tolerance for pain, I’m concerned about how badly it may hurt, and I’ve done my searching online to know what the worst case scenario might be. It’s my nature to expect the worst, knowing that I won’t be disappointed if the worst doesn’t happen. I’m most worried about the recuperation time if I need to have some outpatient surgery done. Research says that could be 4 to 6 months, some time spent in a sling. It’s my right side, and I’m right-handed. There are so many things I can’t do now because of the pain that arises, and I’ve been dealing with this for 4 months. I don’t like feeling helpless!

Anyhow, I digress…. Humanity suffers from many catastrophes. Tornados, hurricanes, flooding, fire, war. Somehow, survivors manage to pick up the pieces and put themselves back together again. And I realize that they don’t get to go “back to normal” either, but must build a “new normal” for the rest of their lives. I am worried – we all should be to some extent – but I am doing my best to be prepared as well. I can choose to moan and focus on the negative, but none of that energy spent will change a single thing. I think it’s okay for me to have some sense of worry, because it keeps me alert. But if I do my best to be prepared and follow the guidelines and focus on what stands ahead in the future, I think I’m gonna be okay…