Updated: Aug 17, 2021
Do worry and be happy
At some point in life, we all experience concerns which pervade our thoughts, interrupt our sleep and even stop us concentrating on anything else at all except for that one nagging concern. If the problem is resolved quickly then we move on and business as usual may be resumed quickly. If the problem does not resolve quickly, it really can cause problems to work, relationships and even consequences for our health.
Let’s take an example: I lose my job, and that certainly features as one of life’s major stressors, and it is entirely understandable why that would be an upsetting concern. In some ways the deep-seated part of our brain, that part has been with us since man first walked on the savannah is helpful in stopping us walking into the path of oncoming traffic or being cautious when we enter a dark cave- in short, we have hard wiring which helps us to survive. This part of us, however, will also raise concerns to a fever pitch and not let up. In our example I may be thinking: “I will never work again’ ‘what the hell am I going to do?’ ‘I am a useless idiot’ ‘why me?’ and so on. These thoughts may connect with feelings, raised heart rate, faster breathing rate and other symptoms of anxiety. In turn these feelings and thoughts then may affect my behaviour, I might close, down I might stop applying to jobs after numerous rejections (‘what’s the point I keep getting rejected?’).
Telling myself not to worry or distracting myself with food, booze or excessive sleeping/TV watching could all be strategies I employ, but these have their own negative side-effects without really fixing my problem! What I suggest here is not telling myself not to worry but instead to allow that worry to exist and use self-talk to help minimize the damage. For example, on one of my sleepless nights one side of the conversation goes like this: ‘I am not sleeping! Why am I not sleeping? You’re an idiot to lose your job what if you never get another one?’ It goes on night after night, is repetitive and does not stop. Using self-talk though might help- here is the other side of that conversation or my 'self-talk' response: (Step 1)
‘this is stressful, and it is understandable why losing my job would make me worry, I am also not going to fix this by worrying. I am already taking the action that needs taking, applying for jobs, putting out enquiries, getting up each day and keeping a positive routine- so thanks for the concern but it is not helping- in fact worrying more and losing sleep is almost certainly making it worse.’
I can also notice my thoughts (we often don’t notice our thoughts as we are too busy thinking them) for that’s what they are: just thoughts… they are not facts, they are not truth; they are not what is definitely going to happen, they are thoughts. So, I may notice this and think: ‘I notice I am having negative thoughts about this again’. I may imagine the thought as a silly, squeaky little cartoon character pest that keeps jabbering, his stupid high-pitched voice annoying me constantly and with that the thought is diminished, lessened, still there but with much less power, weakened to the point I can move on, I can sleep and do the proactive things that might help…