By Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach
Worrying? Who doesn't these days? There's such a great choice of things to worry about - terrorism, the economy, the rising cost of health insurance - and then there's our more personal list - the difficult teenager, an aging parent who's not doing well, the threat of being downsized, the difficult in finding good employment.
What we choose to worry about says a lot about us, but the concept of worrying seems to be an accepted part of life. I'm reminded of my first days interning at a battered women's shelter when I was getting my degree in psychology. "You won't find a lot of neurotic worrying down here," the supervisor told me. "This is about putting food on the table."
What is "neurotic" worrying? Well, it's kind of like getting in the groove of worrying and shifting the levels and the particulars. Worrying about things you're conflicted about. Fantasizing and inventing things to worry about. It's an oversimplification, but "real" worry is when your car's stuck on the railroad track and a train is barreling toward you. "Manufactured" worrying is worrying that you'll NEVER find a partner because you're over 30 or worrying that you'll NEVER find a job.
Sometimes we just get in the habit of worrying. For instance you might wake up in the morning and start the mental search for what you're supposed to be worrying about that day. Even having had a great dream can trigger this. "I had this wonderful dream about my mother," someone told me, "and woke up so happy, but it didn't last long. I immediately switched over to worrying about how unhappy she is now and what to do about it."
Well, it's one thing if you're worrying about something crucial - in the case of being unemployed, for instance, but quite another if you're just in the habit of worrying and you don't feel good if you aren't, or actually go after it as a part of your mental and emotional life.
This can be changed and is part of your emotional intelligence development. Worry is part mental and part emotional. You start the emotion of worry because of what you're thinking about or, especially sad, you're in a worry mindset and start a computer scan to find things to worry about. It's quite logical that if you're determined to worry, you can find something to worry about, but we aren't always rational about such things.
Emotions are valuable to us because they give us information, and in this case your worry is telling you there's a legitimate problem that needs addressing, but consider this analogy. It was often bandied about in the media, and is kind of a well-known fact that the stock market doesn't like uncertainty. We were often told that once the election was over, whichever way it went, the market would settle down and start to rise again.
Well, we don't function well with uncertainty either. Once a decision is made, we can settle down and start to rise again. Worrying is like remaining in that state of indecision. After all, we can't always be sure of any outcome.
When you think about it, what we worry about often never comes true, and the things that will really whack us are things we could never have conceived of. 911 would be a good example of this. How could we have conceived of something like that happening? There couldn't have been one person in the US lying awake at night worrying that a terrorist airplane would crash into the World Trade Center, but I bet there were at least 100 people in New York City at the time worried about a presentation they had to give that day that never occurred because of the terrible event that no one could have anticipated.
And remember all the recommendations that were made for coping with 911? One of them was to do something to help; to choose one thing to do that would help others or help the cause, and therefore alleviate that helpless feeling. It was a matter of taking action.
Don't get into the habit of worrying. If there's a challenge in your life, face it and do the best you can to address it. You can borrow strength from the challenges you've faced before. If you're worrying about something you can't do anything about, you're wasting time and energy that could be focused positively somewhere else. If you're worrying just to worry, seeking out possible candidates for this task, there's something a lot better you could be doing with your mind.
The first step is to become aware of your own worry patterns. The second step is to know that you have a choice. Then you can learn to divert yourself from mindless worry that robs you of life energy and pleasure.
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