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Permission to worry

Posted in Life & Love

meditation cartoonI am a professional worrier and an equal opportunity one. I can worry about the most mundane things as well as calamities that, deep down, I know will never come to pass. And those I know will come to pass, like a big earthquake for instance, don’t really phase me. The worry stems from immediacy. Then there is worry as magical thinking: if I imagine the worst possible outcome, I am convinced everything will be well. Psychologists call this (fairly common) behavior “defensive pessimism”.

My need to worry got a boost this week. A study in the journal Emotion followed a sample of 230 law students at the University of California Los Angeles as they waited for the results of their bar exams, and looked at how they dealt with the stress of waiting and what worked to combat the anxiety.

Waiting for results is something I have been intimately familiar with of late. I obsess. I imagine all possible disastrous outcomes and it drives me crazy when people tell me not to worry. I always thought that, maybe, worrying was my coping mechanism. It turns out I am not that far off.

People who worry deal much better with negative outcomes than those who don’t, and are much more elated if the news is positive. “One definition of waiting well is not having negative emotions. But not going through that thinking process leaves you less prepared to receive the news. That’s the paradox, the counterintuitive part of the findings,” said Julie K. Norem, the author of “The Positive Power of Negative Thinking,” and a professor of psychology at Wellesley. So. There.

As far as keeping worry at bay, it turns out active pursuits such as cleaning your closet or playing video games work much better than passive ones like watching tv. In the long run, though, nothing really works and your mind will always travel back to what you are worrying about. Which, apparently, is not so bad after all.

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9 Comments

  1. Blimey, this is excellent news! I’m a professional worrier. Comes with having anxiety, I guess.

    I still recall when I started meditating, and the worries went away. I got yelled at one day at work, and it didn’t bother me at all; in fact, my heartbeat didn’t even rise. However, I also remember not feeling like I was there, it was a sort of out-of-body experience, like watching someone yelling at me from outside the situation. I asked myself if this not being phased was the same as not caring (and how would I have received bad news, if not worrying makes the reception of them a bit harder?) Is this how calm people live?

    I leave you with an exchange I once saw between my mother (the uber calm one) and father (the anxious one):
    “So, what are you worries today?” She asked, mockingly.
    “Today I have no worries. That’s not good.”
    “How come?”
    Very resolutely, my father replies: “Today I’m worried about not having any worries.”

    May 31, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I think your father and I could become fast friends. I feel that if I don’t worry something terrible will happen. Maybe because bad things happened when I was totally blindsided (I.e. I didn’t worry enough…).

      June 1, 2016
      |Reply
  2. I like that term – “defensive pessimism”. I suppose we can stop worrying about whether or not our worrying is excessive or misplaced or whatever

    May 15, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Some days I just wished I stopped worrying completely. Just to see how it feels.

      May 17, 2016
      |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I suppose. But does the attitude towards it make a difference?

      May 14, 2016
      |Reply
  3. winston moreton
    winston moreton

    Well said Ollie Toffolo

    May 13, 2016
    |Reply
  4. Ellie Toffolo
    Ellie Toffolo

    Thank you so much for another thought provoking post !!!! Worry is something that like you I am well acquainted with. I used to think that worry went in hand in hand with negativity but I agree that’s not true – it goes hand in hand with concern – concern is feeling – feeling is care – you care about something you have feelings for and are concerned about. Makes sense to me. And obviously to you too. Caring means thinking means finding some sort of answer. Caring means preparation means resilience. Resilience means survival. Then again excess worry can be damaging, like excess anything can be lethal. As you say, however, I agree that stable worriers deal better ‘with negative outcomes……. much more elated if news is positive’ – so as worriers we are geared to handling bad things, but then does that mean we could be completely overcome by having to handle really happy, good things??………………Sounds really great to me, so much better than the other way round !!!

    May 12, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Thanks for your eloquent comment Ellie. As always.

      May 13, 2016
      |Reply

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