The coming weeks are filled with excitement for me, as I prepare to speak at a Lutheran Women’s Conference on Saturday, and then take off for Toronto for a conference with Pat Mussieux and the Wealthy Women Leaders. All this, amidst busy preparation for my book launch of The Confident Introvert, and numerous speaking engagements from October through November.
With so many events and so many details to take care of, it’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying about what might happen. This week’s article is a reminder for me as well as for you, as it addresses the question “Does worrying ever do any good?”
The Work of Worry
Does worrying ever do any good? Yes, if it means that you are planning ahead. That is the work of worry: to foresee a problem and take steps to avoid it. Whether it involves getting your car checked before a long road trip, turning off the water to the outside of your house before the big freeze sets in, or setting out a program to complete a project before a deadline, worry can be the motivator.
Having taken those steps, you should be able to relax. Many people, however, continue to obsess over the possibility that something bad may happen.
Suppose you’re concerned about fire and the possibility that it will wipe out your home and all its contents. You clear out hazardous clutter, take out fire insurance, and make sure you turn off heat-generating appliances when you leave the house.
Then you go live your life without being obsessively preoccupied with the matter.
If you still walk around thinking constantly of the threat of fire, you’re obsessing and you’re in constant low-level stress. Remember, your mind cannot tell the difference between a deeply- imagined event and a real one. It flashes the “danger” signal, and your body responds with the fight-or-flight response. One stressful thought can easily become many stressful imaginary “events,” repeatedly triggering the physical reaction that leaves you fatigued, with higher blood pressure and a lowered immune system response, among other things.
How to change “worrying” to “problem-solving”
Take out “insurance”: If you are concerned about a negative outcome to a situation, think of what is within your power to do to prevent that outcome. Do it; then let go of those worrisome thoughts.
If you frequently have difficulty letting go of worrisome thoughts:
Think of alternate scenarios: is this the only way this experience could play out?
Getting locked into one thought pattern keeps you from imagining other possible outcomes, leaving you unprepared. For example, many things could happen to your home: It could be burglarized or swept away by a tornado during your absence. But the highest probability is that your house will be safe.
What is the probability the alarming scenario will occur?
You may not have a mathematically precise idea, but ask yourself this: Are you behaving as if there is a 100% probability? 50%? 20%? The amount of time you devote to thinking about the challenge should be roughly proportional to the likelihood it will occur.
Keep a record of your predictions – and their outcomes
Often we predict alarming things and then forget that we were wrong. Then, if you are a really good constant worrier, you just go on to worrying about something else without pausing to critique your last prediction. Keep a record of your alarming predictions: write them down. Later on, after the event, write down what the actual outcome was. You may be surprised to note how seldom what you predicted really does come true.