What, me worry?

I worry.

For a complete list of things I worry about, well, it would take a series of columns in this space that would last for weeks, maybe months. Seems like with all the study I’ve done on what makes people tick, that I should know what makes me tick and I should be able to shed worry easily. Not so. It’s often hard for me.

I’m sure you worry too. But let’s not worry about our lists of worries right now, let’s just worry about how and why we worry and worry about whether we can do something about that.

I think it’s safe to say that much of our worry comes from uncertainty. But then again, it can come from certainty. It can be about ourselves, or about others. It can be about things we’ve done or things we haven’t done. It can be brought about by the actions of others. Pretty pervasive, isn’t it, this worry stuff?

Maybe we should think in terms of dividing lines. Maybe there’s a line between things we bring upon ourselves and what others bring. Maybe there’s a whole series of lines that we can use to rank little worries and big worries. Maybe there’s a line between things we can do something about and things we can’t. See, now I’m even worrying about how to analyze worrying. I do think that establishing these lines are a first step in dealing with worry, though.

I used to do some work with guys in the jail. It’s a rare week some genius-level idea doesn’t come from one of them. A recurring theme for them, though, is: “Hope for the best and expect the worst.” When a guy says that, he’s usually past the worrying stage. He’s resolved to his fate and somehow, he’s mustered the strength to deal with the outcome, whatever it is. I think the reason they can do this is because they have so much time to think about it.

Do all of us really think about our worries or does whatever it is that’s worrisome take on a life of its own apart from the thought process? Does it just fire up preoccupation, anxiety, and dread? I think that’s what happens. Eventually, worry becomes a passive condition, sort of simmering on the back burner, that we feel we’re stuck with.

Let’s try to flip that by considering the “expect the worst” angle. Most worries probably start out this way with “OH NO!” in huge, neon, flashing letters. Then all our emotions can avalanche down on top of us; fear, anger, sadness, frustration, ANXIETY! Heck of a load, isn’t it? I believe it’s quick and automatic, too. I can’t imagine a situation where it can just be dodged.

But if we can generate all this brain power to come up with a million negative scenarios and a billion problematic details, and problems, problems, problems, all before anything happens, why can’t we use that brainpower to give us some relief?

One of the ways to deal with worry is to insert “time” into the process. If we expect the worst, and take time to think about it, and take time to ask for help, and maybe take time to say a prayer, that should open the door just a little into our “control room” for worry. That process can give us strategies to deal with the worst case scenario.

There are a couple other re-framing techniques. Ask yourself: “Will this really matter much in.(a day, a week, a year, ten years.)” Ask yourself: “Can I really do anything about this?” If it won’t matter in the long run and if it’s out of your control, say to yourself: “Oh well” and let it go.

A slightly more dramatic strategy that often works is to “worry it down,” or “wear down the worry.” Assume that the worry is going to well up to an uncomfortable level, as it almost always does. Then make a mental list of what you can do about it. Start with something heavy-duty, like packing your bags and running away. Then modify that idea down a notch, like taking a walk in the woods. (Running away for a couple hours.) Or modify it down another notch by using some guided imagery; daydream about a place, a person, an event that gives you comfort, focus on it, and say to yourself: “This is ANOTHER part of my life, a good part, that balances the problem I’m dealing with.” Reading a book (poetry is especially helpful), listen to favorite music, even take a nap. All these things, these actions and thought processes, give you a little control over your feelings. Even a little control over worry really makes a big difference.