Photo by Molnár Bálint on Unsplash
Are you a compulsive worrier? Even to the extent that you are worrying right now about whether you have enough time to read this blog because you might be neglecting something you should be doing?
All of us, at some time or another, have something to worry about. Concerns about money, work-related problems, family and romantic relationships, even the late library book that is accruing fines on a daily basis, are all cause for worrying about whether we will be able to cope with the problems we face and come up with a solution. The surprising aspect to many of the problems that affect our daily lives is that, in 90% of cases, because we are thinking, rational beings, we do come up with a solution to the problem, or at least an acceptable way of minimising the harmful effect. But what about when, no matter how hard we try, we find ourselves anticipating the worst so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when things do, indeed, go wrong?
At times like this, when it is impossible to avoid becoming deeply worried about what might happen, there are three coping mechanisms which I would like to suggest may help: –
The first is to understand the source of your worry by writing down everything relating to that particular issue.
For example, at work you have been asked to make a record of what you do on a daily basis. The first question you asked your manager when the request was made was, ‘why?’ to which the response was that Head Office believe your department is over-staffed, costs are under review throughout the company, and it is important that your manager is fully aware of everything that happens so they can justify the time taken to complete certain tasks. Naturally you are worried because you feel under scrutiny but there are ways to handle this.
The first step in dealing with the anxiety you feel is to write down exactly what you think might happen because of what you have been asked to do. As you write, try to look for a positive to match against the negative. For example, ‘I might lose my job’ can be balanced with, ‘This is an opportunity to demonstrate what a good job I do’. Or, ‘I might lose my job’ can be balanced with, ‘I can manage financially until I can find another job’ or, even, ‘I wasn’t happy in my job, I’ve been looking for a reason to leave’. Writing down every aspect of what you believe the impact of what you are worrying about has on your life and well-being brings it into clearer perspective. Serious anxiety may become a situation you are better able to cope with because you understand not only the factors you are able to control but also what is outside your control which you can, nonetheless, influence to your advantage.
The second coping mechanism, is to allow yourself to worry.
For example, just before you set out for work, the post arrives. There is a letter from a solicitor saying that the driver of the car whose bumper you hit when you were both jockeying for a space in the supermarket car park has suffered a whiplash injury and will be suing for damages.
The most difficult aspect of finding yourself in such a situation is to realise that you cannot immediately drop what you are about to do so you can sit on the phone or at the computer firing off letters because you know you have to go to work and, once there, function efficiently. The worry can easily become overwhelming, the number of ‘what-if’ scenarios building up in your head can be almost impossible to control which is the precise moment when you must control them by using the second coping mechanism: tell yourself you will worry about what has happened and what you have to do about it but at a specific time.
Make a bargain with yourself through controlled positive thinking: ‘At lunch time I will order in a sandwich and then ring my insurance company and see what they have to say. I will not worry about this issue now because I have to get to work, and then I will do a, b and c by a certain time. As soon as I have done those things, I will allow myself to worry about the problem and will then sort out a solution. At the moment I feel overwhelmed but I am sure there is a way through this and, at lunch-time, I shall find it’.
This approach has two distinct benefits. First, you can still function despite the worry because you have made a bargain with yourself. Second, when the time comes to worry you will be too busy finding a solution (positive) to spend time worrying (negative).
The last coping mechanism is to become more skilled at dealing with what worries you by starting small.
For example, you are spending too much time at work checking your personal emails because you are worried that a relative might be very unhappy and they need to talk to you. In effect, the ‘big’ worry is what is happening to the relative and the sense that you are unable to control what is happening to them. The ‘small’ worry is that you want to be in constant contact via email, even during work hours. You know you are checking your emails constantly, you know you are not supposed to do it, and you know you have to stop doing it!
If you deal constructively with the smaller problem (perhaps limiting yourself to checking emails at one or two specific times), then the inflow of information about the unhappy relative is slowed and you can give yourself time to think about the options they have to solve their problem, and the options you have to help them. Thinking about the smaller problems that are causing you to worry becomes a way of providing yourself with choices, good and bad, so you can see what works and what doesn’t. Instead of burying yourself under an avalanche of non-specific worry, you can take smaller strands of the problem, deal with them, and watch as the big problem lessens the effect it has on you or actually gets dealt with.
Worry is a negative and tough emotion to master. I once read ‘worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but it gets you nowhere!’ and I believe that. Learning to deal with it effectively is a positive skill and one I truly believe will help everyone at some time in their lives.