Monday, February 17, 2014

The Ways We Worry

Do you ever have the experience when you're reading something and it's completely unrelated to you or your real life, but then you come to a sentence and it's like the author wrote it to describe you?  And you didn't even realize it described you until you read it and suddenly you're like, yes, yes that's exactly how I am or that's exactly what I'm feeling?

I do a lot of reading, so this happens to me fairly often, but I always get a shiver of pleasure when it does.  There's something so satisfying about having someone else clearly and beautifully articulate the incoherent thoughts that are bouncing around in your brain.

This happens a lot when I read things about grief, of course.  Right now I'm listening to an audiobook.  It's a novel, and the main character's mother just died.  It made me wish I was reading on paper instead of listening because I wanted to copy down the description of how he was feeling, of his distant certainty that it would just take a bit of time before the world made itself right again and quit traveling down this wayward path away from the way things should be.  (That's not a quote, the author said it much better, but that was the general idea, and do I ever know that very feeling.)

Anyway, I am an occasionally reader of this blog, Enjoying the Small Things, and I was reading about the author's concerns for her daughter who has Down syndrome.  I'm not facing that particular challenge, but I was filled with sympathy for many parents whose concerns about academic and social success in school (which I imagine almost every parent has) are amplified by additional challenges their children face.

And then I read this phrase: worry quickly translates to urgency...  

And I was like, holy shit!  That's exactly how I am!  My worry ALWAYS translates to urgency.  I want to analyze it, research it, and FIX it right then and there.  It explains why, after a few months of trying (unsuccessfully, obvs) to get pregnant with Zuzu, I was absolutely insistent that I see a reproductive endocrinologist.  When I am worried about something, I want to deal with it RIGHT.THIS.SECOND. I don't want to wait and see, I don't want to pause and take a breath. I want to launch headlong into research and plan-making and immediate action.  I don't tolerate uncertainty very well, and I want to make sure there is as little of it as possible.

I have a friend whose worry seems to move in the opposite direction--toward what appears to me to be denial or disregard. It's frustrating for me because, were I in her circumstances, I would handle things so completely differently. She laments missed deadlines and looming time frames, but seems (to me, anyway) not to take specific action to remedy these things. I just don't understand her approach because I'm all OMG the URGENCY!

It was interesting for me to read that sentence and recognize it as a truth that described me, but also as one that certainly doesn't describe everyone. It's not the only way to handle worry, and it's certainly not the right way or the best way. It can be effective, yes, to treat worries as though they must be dealt with right then and there, but it can also be an enormous waste of energy and a major cause of stress. Not every worry is urgent, and even major problems are not always ameliorated by taking immediate action.

Occasionally--and I remember doing this more often in graduate school--I would make a list of everything I was worried about. Usually assignments or exams, but sometimes money issues or other deadlines or conflicts or anything else that might be on my mind. This helped me deal with things that I couldn't fix right that moment--there was no way I could solve the problem of my Major Field Exam nine months in advance (but I could definitely fret over it!)--and helped me prioritize what needed to be done.  It was calming to see my concerns listed out on paper, and so satisfying to cross them off the list eventually. I loved going back to those lists six months or a year later to see that the things I'd been so worried about had all worked out just fine.

I like to think my worries have changed in perspective since I was in graduate school, when things like health and safety seemed easy to take for granted. Still, I manage to worry about plenty of smaller things that are more manageable but certainly not as urgent as I often make them out to be. I hope this little moment of self-awareness translates into an ongoing recognition of what really needs to be done and what I'm making seem more urgent than necessary. Not every decision has to be made right this second, even if I'd feel better if it could all be decided.

I suspect this is related to one's tendencies to procrastinate or not (I am not a procrastinator, but my best friend--not the one mentioned earlier--totally is.  And--like my other friend--she deals with worry very differently than I do, craving distractions where I get rabid for more information).

So, informal survey... how do you worry?  Do you tackle things as though they have utmost urgency? Or put worries on the back burner and deal with simpler tasks first?


  1. Brooke. Wow. This is me too! I have been losing my mind over the new house finances for months. Problem is, we won't have it solved until the house closes. This means I have had 5 months in my urgency wanting to fix it NOW and I can't. Not being able to solve it and have it come to a resolution has been driving my anxiety through the roof. My worry creates an urgency... I need action now! Or rather in 25 more days.

  2. I am soooooo the type to figure it out and get it fixed NOW! I hate having things hanging over my head!

  3. I used to be a very structured thinker in the sense that I knew what I wanted. And if something was stressing me out, or I didn't have control over a situation, I was really OK with letting it all settle itself out because I felt the things I did have control over were reason enough to feel I was making the best of my current situations. I used to look into the things I felt mattered to me and always aimed to have my attempts at anything be successful. I didn't worry so much, but I did "stress" over things. Make sense?

    Well now, now.. I'm such a downer. I always get stressed out or bummed out when things don't work out, or "might" not work out, and I go into total 2 year old mode and get frustrated and want to quit rather than research and make things work.

    I hope I stop being such a bum about life soon, and get back to my once confident and self-assured self.

  4. What a timely post.

    I am, at this moment, nearly entirely paralyzed by worry and fear. So much of me wants to push forward with a high sense of urgency, while simultaneously feeling unable to move an inch.

    I prefer to address things head on, but when rejected I scuttle about trying to regroup and replaying things in my head repeatedly.

    It has gotten me exactly no where.

    Off to panic some more.

  5. Exactly what you described is what happened to me while reading this. :-) Now excuse me while I go locate a nearby reproductive endocrinologist...

  6. Definitely with urgency, but maybe that's something that happens to us after a loss? Who knows.

  7. I guess I'm completely in the minority but overall I'm a total ostrich head in the sand kind of worrier. It aligns well with my heritage - Irish/Italians are great at denial.
    I'm NOT a procrastinator in general, so I guess these don't always go hand in hand. If something is worrying me that is within certain complexity parameters, I can knock that right out of the park. But something that seems overwhelming and not easily fixable? My brain just shuts itself off.

  8. On the first point, about someone else capturing a feeling you've had but never articulated.... I was reading The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen for class and I ran across this line: "Lois spent a whole afternoon crying before the Great War because she wasn't a character in a historical novel." Or something close. Not as insightful as some of the other comments above but as a fellow English professor and novel reader, I knew you would appreciate this anecdote!