By VICTORIA SARNE
“Stop worrying, it may never happen.” How many times have you heard those words? Probably often enough that you don’t really take them in any more but how true they are and, if you are the type of person who worries endlessly about all kinds of different things, you really need to take that phrase to heart.
Worrying about anything personal or work-related only serves to make us unhappy in moments when we have nothing to be unhappy about. When we pay too much attention to our anxieties, we allow them to take up space giving them energy which in turn fuels our imagination. The human brain being what it is will then churn out some impossibly negative scenario and off we go on a circular chain of discomfort. This then becomes a habit or even an addiction.
I used to be a chronic worrier. with many comfortable frightening periods of anxiety worrying about anything and everything under the sun. I worried about physical things that might happen to my mother or other members of my family. I worried that I wasn’t good, clever or attractive enough for this or that in whatever particular situation I was encountering. I carried this habit into young adulthood - and it was a habit that I thought was a natural part of me, just who I was or how I was made – something I couldn’t change. As an adult when I started having personal and professional success, I added a new worry – that every success must surely mean a disaster was just around the corner and I would wait for the other shoe to drop.
Eventually it became unbearable and I decided there had to be a way to release myself from such a negative spiral because when I sat down and examined different scenarios in my life, I realised there was no logic to that thinking. The eventualities I was envisioning never happened; my constant worrying didn’t cause any negative outcomes and I was off-setting every good outcome with a negative anticipation ruining the pleasure of it. All it achieved was that I never fully enjoyed my wins, simply contaminated the moment of satisfaction that I had worked for.
Chronic worriers work on the premise that if they worry or anticipate a disaster it will help them cope with the bad news when it comes. This is the underlying reason worriers believe with a dash of magical thinking that this will change the outcome or keep them immune from feeling upset. We need to accept that we can’t perfectly prepare for potential challenges: those will almost always be the very ones we have not anticipated. Then what shall we do? Understand that the opposite of this is true. Research has shown that people who have a positive mindset are better prepared mentally and emotionally to cope with distressing circumstances. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California Riverside, has found that experiencing positive emotions doesn’t set you up for disappointment, but actually increases your likelihood of achieving your work, health and relationship aspirations.
In a paper examining the costs and benefits of negative expectations in the journal Emotion, researchers found that students who predicted getting a poor grade on an exam felt bad for days before receiving their results. Naturally, their stressing did not diminish the disappointment they felt once they got their scores. Research has shown that we are notoriously bad at predicting how we will feel in any given situation because other variables usually come into play when that moment occurs. It makes no sense to think that if we stress abut something it will somehow protect us from disappointment or being caught off-guard and unprepared. This really is magical thinking in a very negative way. Nine times out of ten we are wrong.
There is no rationale to justify continuing a habit that is clearly counterproductive. By behaving negatively, we rob ourselves of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that we do have the ability to shape our own lives. This attitude motivates us to strive for what we want, knowing that we can rely upon ourselves to manage our emotions effectively. When we do this, we can use our capacity to achieve what matters, overcome disappointments and recover from setbacks.
• Victoria Sarne is an entrepreneur and writer. She headed a team to establish a shelter for abused women and children in Canada and was its first chairwoman. You can reach her at email@example.com, visit www.lifelineswritingservice.com, or call 467-1178.