Making the Most of Worry

Worried-

As we come up on the one-year anniversary of my son’s Type I Diabetes diagnosis, I am thinking a lot about worry. When we moved to Madagascar with our children ages 6, 4 and 2 months I was really worried about the lack of health care. It seemed like a silly worry though. Actually, it didn’t seem silly to me at the time, but I kind of knew it was ridiculous to worry about it. My mantra for unpredictable health issues was, “Could happen. Probably won’t.” Now, while that’s technically still true with any health-related worry, for obvious reasons I’m finding it less reliable than I once did. I mean, what could happen did indeed happen!

In this last year, I haven’t completely abandoned “Could happen. Probably won’t,” but I do find I’m moving towards something a bit more solution-focused. And that’s got me thinking – have you ever noticed how sometimes worry can lead you to be more productive and at other times it can leave you feeling completely paralyzed?

In my own vast experience with worry, I’ve come to find that productive worries are usually ones that are based on true and immediate facts. For example, I feel worried that my kids won’t be ready to start at a new school, but the reason is that I’ve done absolutely no work on their applications. In these cases, I usually get my list out and get down to business. The worry subsides.

But paralyzing worries are usually based on uncertainty, unpredictability or what I like to call “disaster thinking.” It’s the kind of worry that goes from a Point A like “My 2 year-old has hives,” to a Point B like “My 2 year-old has developed some strange nervous condition that will result in her hospitalization, my husband’s reassignment and our family’s confinement to Washington, DC…FOREVER.”

So I’ve been trying out a new little worry-test for myself. I’m no expert yet (and trust me, I’ll tell you when I’ve abandoned all worry), but I’m finding it works pretty well. I’m calling it FACT OR INVENTION.

Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you’re faced with a worry. Like this one (keeping with the Type I Diabetes theme from above), “Sam had a really active soccer day today. His blood sugar might go low over night. I should probably test him again before I go to bed. But I don’t want to test him too much. What if one day he’s angry about having Type I? What if he goes years without testing his blood sugar? What if he goes blind? What if he blames me for dragging him around the world and has no permanent home and no one to care for him…when he’s blind?”

Here’s what happens when I use the FACT or INVENTION test on this scenario.

First I ask,

What are the facts here?

  • Super-active day playing soccer
  • Lots of activity increases his chances of having low blood sugar overnight

Then I ask myself,

What am I inventing? What unnecessary burden am I creating for myself here?

  • What if some day he’s angry?
  • What if he stops testing his sugar?
  • What if he goes blind?
  • Then the big snowball – What if he hates being a TCK and that all culminates in a big TCK/Type I Diabetes Nightmare!!

See the difference? One worry is based on real and immediate facts, has a solution (an extra blood sugar test) and therefore has the potential to release me from worry. The other is based on the fear of some daunting, uncertain future, has no immediate solution and traps me in a mental tape of disaster thinking.

By asking these questions I take a step back, sort it all out and come up with the stuff that’s solvable based on fact and the stuff that is cluttering up my tenuous sense of calm and increasing my stress levels.

And get this! I’m not going to tell you to stop worrying. Sure, there are things you can do to keep worry from running amok, but a certain amount of worry is just part of being human. But – I do want to invite you to focus on what you gain by putting this FACT or INVENTION question to work for you.

Identifying the practical, fact-based worries helps you focus on solutions. Make a list, take some action, put that doubt behind you by doing what needs to be done.

But what about those pesky unproductive worries? While it’s true that unproductive worries can be paralyzing, we still learn from them. They serve as powerful reminders to reach a little deeper into our survival tool kits and rely on those things that keep us steady (a nice long run, a good book, a quiet night in, a Skype session with a friend).

And the big take-away from all of this is that as life continues to be unpredictable and worry stays a part of the normal human experience, you can focus in on what you’re telling yourself about how you face what’s in front of you, make decisions about where to go with what you learn and reapply the insight you gain again and again.

 Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. Corrie ten Boom

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

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7 thoughts on “Making the Most of Worry

  1. Oh what a wonderful post – I’m a worrier (a stresskip as the Dutch would say) for sure and I am trying to be a little bit, no a lot more, mindful of when it’s a real worry and when it’s one I have blown out of all proportions (which is mostly always). This is a great way to test a worry – and I LOVE the quote at the end – so so true!

    Thank you so much for linking up. #ExpatLifeLinky

  2. This is a great post. I come from a family of intense, type-A worriers and I excelled at it. Since becoming an expat, and especially because I now live in the Caribbean, I’ve really learned to mellow out. Life has a way of working out just as it should. Why spend the present worrying about the future? #ExpatLifeLinky

    On a side note I love the pic. I have a dachshund so I couldn’t resist opening up the link 😉

    • So happy you enjoyed the post. And, I’m with you 100%. I still worry – I think it’s just part of who I am, but I’ve found that even admitting that I tend to worry has freed me up to worry and move on from worry.

    • I love that you read this and immediately thought about how you typically deal with worry. Even the fact that you labeled yourself as an escapist is such a key to developing better and better strategies for facing worry – or any of the ups and downs we deal with in the expat lifestyle. I actually talk about this a lot in The Expat Activity Book. Check out this blog post where I link to an exercise from my book. The exercise addresses the power of “labeling” the parts of yourself as a key to ramp up your survival tool kit. Thanks for reading!

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