From Worrier to Warrior

wonder woman
Warner Bros.

Here are some of the ways I personally deal with worry.

Engage the task. 

This is my mantra these days. I have so many projects and challenges ahead of me, with high stakes and real risks. I could easily get sucked into worrying about the possibly negative outcomes; I often do get sucked into that.

When I notice it, though, often the best thing is to simply engage the task. Not avoid it. Not think about it. Not plan for it. But engage it. Take a step. No matter how small. Better yet, take a big step. Rip off the band aid.

Acceptance.

Accepting what we cannot change is so famous a concept it’s become cliche, but it is so for a reason. Think about how this may apply to your situation.

Important note: Accepting that the worry is there and that it makes sense, that it is understandable, and that it is okay to have the worry, is such a powerful step. It often helps us to move past that worry and the desire to avoid the worry. When that fearful part of us doesn’t feel heard it often screams louder, and the louder it screams, the more drastic the steps we have to take to drown it out.

Next: Picture positive outcomes.

If you’re already using your imagination to think up scenarios that could unfold, why not think up positive ones? Well, even though I’m asking rhetorically, there are scientific reasons why your mind automatically goes to the negative. Simply put, it’s trying to protect you from the worst outcomes. So much so that you feel unprepared when you don’t think about those outcomes. But that doesn’t mean those scenarios are more likely. Look, if there’s something you can do to optimize your chances, circle back to engaging the taskAnd then get back down here and envision a positive outcome.

I’ve worried about a ton of things, truly. Some of the things I’ve worried about have come to fruition. Bad things. And they have been easier to deal with in reality than in my head. (And some things I haven’t worried about happened, and they were bad too, but no worse than if I had “prepared myself” by worrying about them before. Worrying doesn’t actually prepare you, unless there’s something you can do, and take action on it.)

I have never regretted not worrying about something bad that ended up happening, taking me by surprise. Have you?

In most situations I can think of, the bad outcome was bad, yes, but not as debilitating as I had feared, because I was there, living it, and there were things I could do. Even if all I could do was just accept the present moment and feel my way through it until I made it to the other side. I have come to the conclusion that I could have saved myself some serious suffering if I had just engaged with the present reality of what was happening rather than worrying. And if I was going to imagine an outcome, I could have spent my time more leisurely by dreaming of the better possibilities, many of which did come true!

Cope ahead. This may seem like it contradicts the above tip, but it works if you balance them out and try each for a few minutes at a time. The tip is to think about how you would deal with the worst case scenario. Say that horrible thing you’re afraid of happens. Think about it for a second- imagine it happening, and imagine how you would cope. Because you would cope. Think of things you could do or how you could deal with a negative outcome.

Last, and this has been huge: I started think of myself as a warrior. A super hero. Someone with the power to deal with what comes their way.

You are a warrior, too. I know you are. You’re reading this and looking for ways to help yourself get out of a pit. And the best part is, it’s working.

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Self Approval

Often we look for approval or validation in the wrong places. We wait for our partners to compliment us or for friends to celebrate our successes. We ask for advice when we really want someone to say they approve of our choices.

stamp of approval
Photo by M. Connors

Although sometimes the opinions and acknowledgement of others are beneficial and useful to us, a desperate need for others’ approval and validation indicates a problem in self-esteem. It stems from the belief that we are not as important, worthwhile, good, or legitimate as they are. It stems from the belief that our needs, desires, and opinions do not matter as much as those of others.

Just recognizing this tendency can help. Consciously noticing when we overvalue others and undervalue ourselves can help us to break the pattern, because we can often stop and realize that our opinions and needs matter just as much as anyone else’s. However, sometimes just stopping and noticing doesn’t cut it.

Here’s an exercise that can help:  In a nutshell, it goes like this: Ask yourself what you want to hear. Then, tell it to yourself.

When you have the urge to call a confidant and discuss a dilemma or something that’s bothering you, first pause and ask yourself if there is something specific you are hoping to hear from them. Are you hoping they will tell you something to the effect of, “you should do what makes you happy,” for example, or, “you did a great job,” or “you are doing the right thing”? Tell yourself- ideally in writing- the exact thing you want to hear. See, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to hear this from someone else. We all need emotional support every now and then. However, it’s important to know that your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. Sure, other people may have more expertise in certain areas, and sometimes we are too biased in emotionally charged situations, so it can be wise to seek advice from these people before making big decisions. But when it comes to simply accepting and appreciating yourself as a person, it’s important to be able to do that for yourself, even if it’s nice to have the extra approval and appreciation of others. Your approval of yourself, according to your core values, is what matters most. And when you approve of yourself, it carries just as much clout as when someone else approves of you; in fact, it’s way more important and impacts your life so much more.

Resources:

Judge the Premise

This is some advice for those situations when you are bothered by the thought that someone may be judging you. (Let’s put aside the question of “are they actually judging you?”) Okay. Say a person is actually thinking really harsh thoughts about you. That you’re ugly, that you’re dumb, or that you’re just plain uncool. Ask yourself what their premise is. Whether they’re really judging you or not, what’s the foundation of this imagined judgy argument? Evaluate it! Judge that judgmental premise for yourself.

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photo credit: M. Connors

Are they judging you negatively for not being thin? The premise of that judgment is likely that only thin people are worthy of positive regard or respect. You do not have to accept that premise. In fact, you shouldn’t. I can guarantee you that people who buy into this premise are none the happier for it. Or, are you worried someone is judging you harshly based on a failure? (Are YOU judging yourself harshly based on a failure?) Okay. They can judge. And that mean part of your psyche can judge along. But think about the argument. Think about the premise: Is it “failure makes you worthless”? Where does that argument lead? Everyone who has failed is worthless? Is that really something you agree with? Is a person never allowed to fail? Is that the world you want to live in, where failure is punishable by eternal loss of worth?

See, people will judge. Let them. You can’t tip toe or tap dance your way out of every negative judgment forever. No matter how hard you try to be perfect, someone, sometime, somewhere, will judge you negatively. Meanly. Maybe a lot. But you don’t have to agree with them. You don’t have to carry that judgment and let it rule you, or let the prospect of it terrify you forever. You can accept that people will judge. You do not have to accept the judgment.

“I reject your premise,” is a nice little mantra/mental script to pull out when thinking about a harsh judgment being laid on you, whether by someone else or some mean little voice in your head. Just like that. I reject your premise. I love saying this- mentally, audibly, to myself, to others, whatever. It’s one of my favorite phrases. It gives you agency over the assumptions and values that rule your life. It is a reminder that you are running your own show and that someone else’s values, even when they’re shared by millions of people, do not have to be your own. And here’s a pro tip: if you can’t honestly say you reject the premise, or that you should reject it (like if the judgment is that you’re cruel because you kicked a puppy) then take ownership of it. Accept that you fell short of YOUR values, and resolve to do better from now on.

Resources:

A Question that Can Help you Savor the Present Moment

Nostalgia comes too late. It can fill us with bitter longing and sweet memories of a moment that we didn’t find all that great when we were in it. When we were in it, we were worried about what was next on the agenda, the thing our boss said earlier, or any number of things. We didn’t appreciate the childhoods of our children because there were so many challenges alongside the joys. This is understandable. It’s hard to appreciate things that are hard, and it’s hard to savor moments that are fleeting. But they often come back to get us, jab us right in the gut, don’t they? You smell a certain smell, hear a certain song, file4221267274029 and suddenly there’s this something, this flavor that tickles the very edges of your mind but you can’t hold on to, and you miss it, the beauty of that something from long ago, which at the time didn’t feel that beautiful at all.

So I propose- and I myself work at- asking yourself what you will miss about this time.

“What am I going to miss about this?”

Ask what you may miss about this time, even if it’s a moment or a phase that feels hard to enjoy right now. (If you’ve just lost a loved one or are in the middle of a major life crisis, though, you will need time to let yourself grieve/feel what you’re feeling, and this tip might not be helpful right now.) Barring major losses and crises, there’s usually something you will miss. Having seen it in myself and others, I’ve found we can get nostalgic for even times where we thought everything sucked. It’s worth trying to find those things you will miss, and trying to really soak them in. Because even if you don’t find them now, years down the line you will look back on this time and you’ll have forgotten the minor annoyances, and time will likely have dulled the sting of even major pains. If there’s anything good about this time at all, it will come to you later and you will regret not having enjoyed it now. So try to jump the gun.

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Things to do when sad

Xmas13-0252This is a running list I keep and pull out when I’m in a funk. Sometimes I roll my eyes at an item that a different time really helped me. Sometimes I roll my eyes at the list in general. If nothing here helps you, don’t give up. If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments section. Let’s all help each other.

– Read- get out of your own head and your own story by getting into someone else’s.
– Call someone who would benefit from talking to you- not just who you would enjoy talking to. Takes focus off yourself. Helping others. Make your grandma’s day and call her,
– Instead of waiting for happiness to come to you, help bring it to others by doing a random act of kindness or a form of service, and it will circle right around and lift your spirits as well.
– Have some tea.
– Meditate on your breath. This can help you relax physiologically and also realize that your thoughts are just thoughts. You don’t have to listen to them or believe them or even pay attention to them all the time.
– Laugh. Watch a comedy or listen to some stand-up.
– Move. You probably hear this one all the time, and there’s good reason for that!
– Get spiritual. Praying, meditating, reading a text that speaks to your sense of spirituality can have a rejuvenating and inspiring effect
– Take action on something that is important to you, push the needle forward on one of your goals.
– Light a candle, get a blanket, make yourself cozy, and watch a movie. This is part of what I call riding the wave. You don’t always have to fight it, sometimes you just need to let it run its course.

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Mind Your Own Business

When you find yourself caught up in worries and stress, ask yourself a simple question: what is it that I can control here? What is it that I can take action on right now? Make a plan and/or take action on those things. This can really help you get out of your head, ending the cycle of rumination and worry about a given topic. I once came across a quote by Byron Katie that I find useful in dealing with all those worry about things you can’t control… here’s the quote, ready? It’s simple: “Mind your own business.” She talks about how if it- that thing that’s got you worried and distressed- in in someone else’s hands, whether that is another person or God or fate or what have you, just remind yourself to focus on the things you can actually impact.

Focus on your experience. Do what is in your power.

Mind your own business.

Me Too

I’m a therapist and I have feelings!

Wow. It feels good to get that off my chest.

 

Much of my job as a therapist involves keeping secrets, holding other people’s private information and containing it within myself. I was well aware of that when I chose my career path and it’s not something I struggle with all that much. What I didn’t think about was how hard it would be to keep my own secrets: that I’m a real person (shocker), with a real family (what?!), and not just with real feelings (wait, hold the phone) but with a history of depression (*gasp, faint, drop glass, shattering glass*)!

Half the time when I’m sitting with clients I want to say, “me too,” or “oh my God, I’ve been there. It sucks but you can get through it!” For various clinical and professional reasons, I’ve come to the conclusion that saying this aloud wouldn’t be constructive for the client. I will speak more about this rationale in another post. But this massive “me too,” in all its iterations in implications, needs a voice. It needs to come out. And whether anyone is there to hear it (i.e. read it) or not, come out it will.

I’ve garnered all sorts of ways to deal with depression and anxiety that go beyond what I have learned in school. I’ve gathered treasured techniques, tricks, strategies, and philosophies that I’ve tested out of necessity for my own survival and wellbeing. And while it’s still a work in progress of course, I have also had a lot of success in bettering my own quality of life, and my outlook. I hope to share this with whoever cares to receive it.

This is the blog of an anonymous therapist. Welcome.