Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop? On Worry & Contentment
You’re having a great day. Maybe something exciting happened: You received a raise, got promoted or defended your master’s thesis. Maybe you took your kids to the zoo, and for the first time everyone genuinely got along.
Maybe the day was absent of thrills. But the small moments still went your way. You sipped a delicious cup of coffee, had lunch with a close friend, and checked off your to-do list.
And yet as you sit and reflect on the day, instead of satisfaction, a wave of panic washes over you. You might even feel a pinch of panic throughout the day.
Many of us start to worry when things are too good. We worry that the good things won’t last, that everything will fall apart any minute. Our brains start churning out “what-ifs.” What if something goes wrong? What if I screw up the new job? What if I make a mistake and lose my raise? What if my kids get sick?
We start worrying that any minute our loved ones will be plucked from this earth. Because maybe one or several of them already have.
Many of us mistakenly assume that we need to brace ourselves for the impact of sad events. So we don’t let ourselves feel positive emotions for too long.
According to clinical psychologist and anxiety expert Tamar Chansky, Ph.D, “Nobody likes to be caught off guard, but many people believe that if we’re not worrying we’re being irresponsible, setting ourselves up for risk, putting ourselves in harm’s way.”
Others find their habitual worrying upsetting. “They would do anything to mute the constant voice of anxiety intruding on the good moments of their life, interjecting what possible fears are waiting around the corner,” Chansky said.
But whether you think you need to worry or you need to stop, eventually the anxiety wears you down, she said. Eventually, you have a hard time finding any enjoyment in life.
What can you do? Chansky believes that all of us can reduce our worrying and savor our lives. She shared these four tips.
1. Carve out a time to worry and a time to savor.
“[D]esignate a savoring time and separate that from a worrying time,” said Chansky, author of the book Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: 4 Simple Steps to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want.
During your savor session, you can think of micro moments, “reviewing and re-experiencing the details of a nice experience you’ve had [such as] a fun time with your child or partner, a delicious meal, a great conversation with friends [or] an inspiring work meeting.”
You also can think in macro terms, reflecting on larger themes, such as appreciating your family and their support, and how your children are growing up, she said.
Your worry session can include any worries that pop up, such as whether you offended a colleague with your comment, your child is being left out socially, there’s a leak in your dishwasher, and how you’ll pay your child’s tuition, Chansky said.
2. Pass the positivity.
“There is much empirical support for the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal on lifting your mood, and that’s great, but communal savoring is extra potent,” Chansky said. Make it a point to remind your loved ones of an experience you really enjoyed or an experience you’re grateful for, she said.
“Watch the ripple effect as people join in the moment of your positive feelings and add to them by sharing an experience themselves.”
Another idea is to email a friend to thank them for a gift or sweet experience – even if you’ve already done so, she said. “[R]enew that feeling of gratitude and enjoyment by sharing it again.”
3. Reflect on your life.
Sometimes Chansky asks her clients to imagine where they want to be at the end of their life and to consider what matters most to them. “People often will talk about how they want to have had deep connections with others, or have really enjoyed activities in their life.”
Then she and her clients work backward to answer the question: “What’s the thing that you can do this week, or tomorrow that brings you closer to that goal?”
4. Consider what you want your loved ones to focus on.
“We worry so much for other people — especially parents for kids — but we would never wish our worry on them,” Chansky said. For instance, your child has been accepted to college. The tuition check hasn’t even cleared yet, and you’re already worrying about whether they’ll pick the right major and get a job after they’ve graduated, she said.
Instead, challenge yourself to focus on what you’d like others to focus on. For instance, feel the pride of your child getting into college. Think about all the hard work that their accomplishment required. “[D]escribe how you would want them to see themselves,” Chansky said.
You can even share this by writing them a letter or expressing how you feel. “[T]ell them how impressed and proud you are, how you hope they always know that they can count on themselves, that even though they (and you) might worry, that this in no way negates the incredible gifts they have and the very competent ways they apply them.”
For many of us, worrying feels all too natural. And savoring small moments, or savoring our lives, feels hard.
Still, as Chansky said, “We may never totally outgrow that fear that children have of bad things happening. But as adults we have so much more control and choice over where we invest our time and attention.”
Techniques like the above can help you refocus your time and attention on meaningful, satisfying moments. And, if you’re still having a hard time, find a therapist who specializes in anxiety.
Because, as Leo Buscaglia said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop? On Worry & Contentment. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 2, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop-on-worry-contentment/