Worry

WorryI am writing this column from western New York where I am attending a conference and, on this late April day, 10 inches of snow have fallen in the past 10 hours.

Ordinarily when I am away from home, weather issues that threaten to make me late, or worse, trap me and imprison me (note the extreme language) and create an emotional freak out.

I obsessively check the weather app on my phone, stand at the window and glare, as if that could halt snow, or wind, or whatever is happening, and ask everyone I am around when they think it will stop and what are the chances of getting out. I do this even when no one knows. I do this knowing that no one knows, but I still have to ask. It’s a little crazy.

But this time. I am not worried. I. Am. Not. Worried.

This is new behavior for me. I’m liking it.

I realize that “weather worry,” and worry that relates to health and illness, are not equal in importance. But they are related by that word “worry.”

In an interview, Michael J. Fox was asked about his Parkinson’s disease and if he worried about what was next. He answered, “When you imagine every bad thing that can happen, if it does happen, then you’ve lived it twice.”

It doesn’t matter where we direct our worry — it has the same useless and toxic effect. It doesn’t help our situation one bit, and it can harm us and sap our energy quite a lot. The practice of worry (and it is a practice) drains our problem solving ability, insures that we won’t enjoy life, and, most significantly, creates a world parallel to the one where we are living. In this alternative universe, our imagination paints scenarios and traps us (and this is a real trap) in suffering that has not yet happened.

In an interview, Michael J. Fox was asked about his Parkinson’s disease and if he worried about what was next. He answered, “When you imagine every bad thing that can happen, if it does happen, then you’ve lived it twice.”

Worry invites us to live every difficult scenario at least twice, and often dozens of times.

Yet here I am in the midst of a spring snowstorm far from home, calmly sipping my morning coffee. We can learn another way.

Here are a few things you can practice when worry threatens your peace and well being.

Change the channel on your inner weatherman.

For me, it’s weather, for you it might be your health, or finances, or another area where you hear the voice of some inner authority who predicts danger and disaster.

The real life weather folk love weather events because it gives them something to do. They get lots of airtime, and spin useless predictions.

We get voices like that in our heads. Identify what channel is giving you the worst news. Identifying that voice is the first step.

Changing the channel is the second.

We change the channel in two ways.

Replace the disaster announcer with the Voice of Calm.

Start telling yourself it will be OK, and you will recognize the voice of someone you trust. This is your own Inner Authority who wants to help — who doesn’t want you to waste your life fretting over what cannot be controlled.

Worry feeds on attention. Worry, like fire, demands air time to live. When you deliberately turn your attention away, worry begins to fade. It doesn’t thrive and grow.

When you change the channel, and listen for this voice, you can hear some sanity. We don’t know what will happen. We do know that we are smart enough and have support and resources to handle it. Even if that doesn’t feel true to you, it is at least as true as the disaster scenario where we are at the mercy of the thing-that-has-not-yet-happened.

If you find it hard to locate the Voice of Calm inside, do the second best thing:

Distract Yourself.

Worry feeds on attention. Worry, like fire, demands air time to live. When you deliberately turn your attention away, worry begins to fade. It doesn’t thrive and grow.

As it shrinks, it is easier to manage.

You my not be able to sit calmly in the midst of a storm yet, but as you practice, you will get stronger and it gets easier to breathe deeply and let life happen.

You won’t have to live through any problem twice.

And p.s. I’m getting home just fine.

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