I was reading a magazine yesterday morning and worrying about how much I had to face once I got to my office when I was confronted with an article on living longer. The article listed several key things one could do to live a longer life but one point in particular struck me. It said—get this—that people who live longer fret occasionally. Apparently, too much optimism can leave you unequipped to deal with the worst possible scenarios that you might encounter in your life. “A little worry,” the article says, “keeps you warmed up for the curveballs life throws.”
See? I knew I was on the right track.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a constant worrier but I do have moments when worrying consumes so much of my brain power that I need to use specific coping mechanisms to stop. There are a few things I remind myself when I get to worrying:
1. Worrying won’t change the outcome. There have been times when I’ve been so consumed with worry, e.g. a test will reveal more disease, a deadline will be blown, someone I love may have an accident in icy weather, that I can’t get out of my own way mentally. Worry just consumes me, eats me up, so to speak. When that happens, I tell myself that whatever is going to happen will happen whether or not I worry; I have no control over the situation. This takes some mental energy, and sometimes it works, other times…not so much.
2. I should set aside a few minutes each day to worry. Someone once told me that if I was consumed by worry, I should set aside a time—say eight o’clock in the morning—and set a timer for fifteen minutes during which time I should worry about the things that concern me. After the timer goes off, the worrying stops. There are a few problems with that plan. First, I don’t own a timer. And second, I don’t have the mental fortitude to put my problems or concerns out of my head after a set period of time. I learned that while doing the ostensibly mind-clearing exercise of yoga. Not going to happen.
3. Worrying is a giant waste of time. Now this is a coping strategy I can get behind. Why? Well, I’m what is called in scientific circles a “Type-A personality.” (In regular circles, I’m just a hyper lunatic.) When I thought about all of the times I worried about a particular situation, only to have my feared outcome never come to fruition, I calculated that I had wasted approximately a year of my life worrying about things that turned out just fine. Or didn’t turn out at all. Or had become completely irrelevant by the time there was an outcome to note. Wasting time is a concept I can get behind and when I think of wasting precious time when I could be doing something constructive or positive, I seem to stop worrying immediately.
Right now, I’m worried that a book I’m working on for my day job won’t get to the printer in time. Or that my daughter won’t do as well as she wants to. Or that my son will get hurt playing lacrosse. But then I remind myself that if the book doesn’t make it to the printer on the day it’s supposed to, it will probably go the week after. And that my daughter has been working day and night to make sure she’s prepared for the “big test.” And that my son wears so many pads while playing lacrosse that it’s amazing he can move at all. See? Worrying is a giant waste of time.
Any other champion worriers out there in Stiletto land? If so, what do you do to stop yourself from biting your nails to the quick, chewing the inside of your mouth raw, or grinding your teeth?