So many people tell me they are anxious, troubled with worry, or filled with dread. These people also have been led to believe that these feelings are inevitable, uncontrollable, and somehow justified. This always makes me sad. Part of the challenge is how we define those words. Another challenge is the way we’ve been taught to confuse caring with worry. A common sentiment is that “good mothers” worry about their children. A belief such as that would definitely make it difficult to rid oneself of worry. If worry did anything productive I could support that. But, worry robs us of emotional and physical energy that is better spent caring for ourselves and the people we love. Preparation is one antidote.
Lets start by defining some terms.
Worry is a word most appropriately used to describe a pattern of thinking, often described as circular or spiraling, that feels out of our control. When I ask people about their worry what I usually hear is an avoidance of thinking about what they are actually afraid could happen. That avoidance is part of what causes the thought to repeat. Facing the concerns actually allows us to prepare and take appropriate action.
Nervousness refers primarily to physical reactions such as rapid heart rate, difficulty catching one’s breath, sweating, trembling, fidgeting, or even digestive issues. These physical symptoms are generally increased when someone is avoiding their concerns and emotions. The symptoms decrease if one chooses preparation and action instead.
Stress is an interpretation of events. It might include a perception about having too much to do within a specific time period, an overestimate of the probability of potential consequences for not finishing those tasks, or a perception of the expectations of others that may or not be accurate. Once again, avoidance in considering these perceptions also interferes with preparation and meaningful action.
Anxiety is a word/label that I really encourage people to ditch. I’ve written about my thoughts on anxiety in a previous blog. That label just isn’t helpful. Most people put include all kinds of things under the label of anxiety that would be so much more effectively dealt with by addressing them individually. Further, using the label makes people feel like a victim, not empowered to manage the situation. People don’t make their best decisions from a victim stance.
Preparation can be defined as the action or process of making ready for an event or occurrence. Preparation can include making oneself ready for managing one’s emotions, rallying resources, or controlling whatever parts of the event might be controllable. Consider people preparing for a predicted hurricane. A healthy response focuses on reducing damage, and promoting readiness. It would not be reasonable to focus on trying to control the hurricane itself. But that is exactly what many people do. They focus on trying to prevent unpleasant or difficult things from happening rather than using that energy to decide how to handle it if the thing actually happens.
Many people invest their time and energy on trying to control things that are not really controllable. More often than not this is because they fear their own ability to tolerate their own emotions not the event itself. When I ask people about their “worry chain” it often ends with “I would feel sad”, “I would be embarrassed”, or “I would feel upset.” These are normal human emotions that really aren’t worth the wasted energy of worry.
So what is the solution? Honesty. Instead of turning away from the concern – confront it. Look at the possibilities. Decide how you will plan to handle them if they occur. Identify your resources. Make an honest appraisal of the likelihood of the unwanted event. Implement reasonable processes to encourage positive outcomes. Then get busy living the life you currently have. RIGHT NOW!