Can sharing your worries with a friend help you problem-solve and be more productive? Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell recently wrote a book in which he explains that working out your worries with a friend could help eliminate distractions in life.
“Worrying alone does not have to be toxic, but it tends to become toxic because in isolation we lose perspective,” Hallowell told Science of Us blog. “We tend to globalize, catastrophize, when no one is there to act as a reality check. Our imaginations run wild.”
As a classic worrier, however, I have to caution anyone against heaping your worries on any one person too often.
It can be a dangerous proposition to tell a worrier that they need to share their worries. I’m not telling you to bury them deep down, it’s just that I find when I let my worries run wild there seem to be more and more of them. For instance, worrying about a job interview turns into worrying about getting lost on the way there, leads to worry about not finding parking and being late or having a car accident on the way because I’m so nervous.
Worry can beget worry and for some people it’s a shocking thing to witness.
In Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive, Hallowell proposes getting help from others in order to tackle worry:
My basic three-step method of worry control is as follows: 1. Never worry alone. 2. Get the facts. (Toxic worry is rooted in wrong information, lack of information, or both.) 3. Make a plan. Having a plan reduces feelings of vulnerability and increases feelings of control.
While I can see where this could be helpful to some, watching you ride the rollercoaster of anxiety can overwhelm those around you. I’ve found that inviting others into my anxiety doesn’t always inspire them to problem-solve. Sometimes worry can be like a virus and people who weren’t worried become worried. For instance, have you ever seen a fearful flyer gripping the armrest on a plane or carefully inching down the aisle row by row in order to get to the restroom? Afterward, when the plane hit a little turbulence, you may have felt a little more anxious about it than usual. It’s because seeing someone worry so much can make us wonder if we should be worried too. Maybe they know something we don’t.
Other people can’t relate at all because they simply aren’t worriers. They aren’t adept at problem-solving because the don’t run into the stumbling blocks that worriers do.
More laid-back people offer unhelpful advice like “Don’t worry about it;” “Let it go;” “Just forget about it;” or “It’ll probably be fine.”
When people can’t relate to my worry, they aren’t able to help me get rid of it. It adds a level of embarrassment instead of insight or comfort. This doesn’t mean that I don’t share my concerns with my friends, family, coworkers or partner. In fact, sometimes what I’m worried about is a quick fix for someone else. But I hate that look I get when someone laid-back just can’t fathom how I could be worried about something. It’s not helpful and leads to shame.
Furthermore, I tend to worry more when no one else appears to be worried — or is worried enough. My poor husband knows this well, but as an eternal optimist and a real laid-back guy, there’s nothing he can do. But there is something I can do — worry more.
It’s a hard behavior to change. How do I find that worry barometer inside myself and bust it up? Looking for more information doesn’t usually help me. I can spend an entire weekend — 48 hours straight — researching something to make myself feel less worried about it. I’ll search the Internet until my shoulders lock up and all my devices run out of juice. What happens after that? I find something new to worry about and spend another 48 to 72 hours researching that. Once it begins, it is a vicious cycle.
I think the best answer to worry is being modeled by those around me. Instead of looking at the calm or laid-back person with envy, it’s time to catch their vibe like a virus. I let something roll off my back — even if it doesn’t. I look around at calm, detached faces and instead of thinking “These people are sheep to the slaughter!”, I expunge my judgment.
This is my mantra when my anxiety builds up and I feel like I might burst:
Things are just as they are. They aren’t yet what they will become. There is no knowing what the future holds. Sit in this cradle of calm and happiness with everyone else and be in this moment.
Of course that doesn’t solve everything. I still have to work at it. It takes vigilance, but the fake-it-to-make-it approach can actually relieve anxiety. It becomes so habitual that I don’t jump to worry when something doesn’t go as planned or I start thinking about the future.
There are millions of mantras, millions of ways to soothe ourselves when we are worried. I’d rather share that with others than my anxiety.
What are the benefits of sharing worry, as Hallowell posits? It’s important to let other know what you’re dealing with. You don’t have to sit in the dark with your fear. In fact, admitting that you have worry is definitely the first step in getting help. Don’t discount those around you. You may be weeding out a very important social support. But don’t take others down the rabbit hole of worry with you — instead find out where they can take you.