We spend an incredible amount of time and energy thinking about what we don’t want to happen. If you feel like your time and energy is consumed by thoughts of the bad things that could happen or the harsh criticism your efforts or ideas will receive from other people, you are not alone. We have a word that describes the emotional suffering people experience by investing energy in negativity. The word is worry. It can be a noun; you might say “I have a lot of worry in my life”. It can also be a verb; you may find yourself saying, “She is going to worry herself to death”.
The powerful role worry plays in the world is reflected in the fact that, while we have this single word to identify the pain of thinking about negative things we think might happen, we do not have a single word that describes the opposite. Can you think of a single word (noun and verb) that describes the good feelings of anticipating positive outcomes and preparing for good things to happen? I can’t find one. If you can, please let me know. I think it really shows the pervasiveness of worry in our lives that English, such a widely used language, does not have a single word to positively counter the negative of worry.
Being no stranger to worry, you are familiar with the emotional suffering, and you know the high-cost worry can have on your life. It impacts judgement, concentration, productivity, relationships, and self-image. So, how do you defeat worry and start living? How do you become more of a warrior and less of a worrier? There are many strategies to choose from and perspectives that can be adopted. We will examine 2 of my favorite strategies for overcoming worry and get you started on the path to living with greater confidence.
Analyze Your Worry
This tool in overcoming worry has two parts. First, understand worry can be a habit, a default pattern you unconsciously revert to when you are faced with uncertainty. I tell clients on an almost daily basis “patterns persist”. If a child was raised in a household where one or both parents were anxious and chronic worriers, that child may learn worry as a reaction to the stress of uncertainty and use that reaction in the future. Patterns are like inertia; they will continue their path until they are acted upon by an outside force.
When it comes to breaking patterns that outside force is awareness. Patterns persist until we become aware of the pattern and decide to do something else. It is important to look at ourselves and to recognize the role worry plays in our lives. Ask yourself, “Do I worry sometimes about big things that come up?” or “Do I worry most of the time about even little things?” Does worry play a part in your life more days than not? The first step in solving a problem is awareness of the problem. If chronic worry has become a habit for you, the more awareness you can bring to the situation the closer you are implementing a solution.
Second, write down exactly what it is you are worried about. When we are anxious and worried our minds are often whirling with questions like “Why me?” “How could this happen?” or “What will people think?” These are extraneous and just confuse your mind. Get a pen and paper and write down the specifics of your worry and what you can do about it.
What am I worried about?
I’m worried I can’t go to the formal dinner party tonight. I tried on my good jacket, but I’ve gained weight and the seam in the back burst. I don’t have the money now to buy a new one.
What can I do about it?
Worry causes confusion and distraction. The very act of sitting down and writing helps you to focus. Asking specific questions about the problem and what can be done cuts out insignificant questions and gets the brain invested in solution thinking.
Rank your answers according to their probability for positive outcome. Worry lessens once a clear decision has been made and begins to fade away once action is taken on that decision. Follow through on your first solution. If it doesn’t prove useful, move down the list. You have more options, that simply stewing in worry never would not have provided. The more action you take the less worry infects your mind.
Plan for the worst realistic scenario
The worst thing about worry is that it ruins our ability to concentrate. Our minds begin to imagine a million ways things could go wrong. As worry increases, the things we imagine can become increasingly unrealistic.
You receive a bad performance review. You imagine you will have to undertake some supplemental training or corrective action. Then, you start to worry about how mad your boss will get and that he will yell at you. As your worry increases, you imagine a demotion or a transfer out of the department you love. Your worry may begin to run away with you, and you imagine getting fired. Finally, panic sets in and you imagine being chased out of the building by a hundred angry employees with ropes and pitchforks and you end up living under a bridge.
Of all these things, what is realistic? There is no immediate reason for you to live under a bridge if you lost your job. You won’t be chased by an angry mob. Will you be fired? You must ask if you have had a bad review before. Have you ever had corrective action taken against you? If not, you probably won’t get fired, so that worry can be considered unrealistic.
You have separated the unrealistic worries out. Now, remember the more action you take the less worry can infect your mind. All you have left is the question… What kind of corrective action will be taken? Be proactive, approach your boss and/or Human Resources with your desire to correct the situation and improve your performance. Find out what the company’s policy is in these situations, and you will know how best to proceed.
So, by getting realistic about your worries you can clearly define the worst thing that actually could happen. You can then make a decisive plan to deal with that situation, and the absurdity of most of your worries becomes clear.
Worry only intensifies problems. Problems are solved by rational clear thinking and decisive action. Worry can be a habit and breaking a habit takes awareness and practice. By practicing the two strategies presented here you will develop the skill of awareness and the ability to take powerful action to overcome worry.
If you would like to discover more about the affect worry has on your physical and emotional health and even more tools to overcome worry, you can follow my blog at https://www.lloydrobrecht.com/ or call for an appointment at (540) 312-9832
NOTE: In this article the author uses the word self frequently. Self is used to refer to a person’s most genuine identity, who and what a person truly is. So, the term “your self” has a different meaning and should not be confused with the word yourself.
In the first installment of this blog series, we began looking at the idea of happiness, one of life’s most fulfilling experiences. It is something almost everyone wants more of in their lives. I commented, “Happiness is experienced when people cultivate a confident and fluid expression of themselves in their lives.” Let’s look at some key points in this idea.
First, is the word cultivate. This is to point out that happiness and the ability to express your “self” (who and what you genuinely are) is something you develop . It is a habit or trait that grows stronger over time. It is a perspective that takes work. It is not having every opportunity to have the things you enjoy.
Second, is the word confident. Confidence is, without a doubt, the number one characteristic my clients tell me they want more of in their lives. I am willing to wager most people reading this agree. You want to be more confident. You want to be more confident living life thinking, feeling, saying, doing, and being what is most in own true nature. You know a lack of confidence dams up the fluid expression of self. So, what is the big inhibitor? What causes the lack of confidence? The answer, in a single word, is FEAR.
Fear Has Many Faces
Fear is an insidious adversary in our efforts to live as our best selves and to experience happiness. One reason is because fear has many faces. Each face tells us a different message, more convincing than the last at keeping us discouraged, unconfident, or complacent. Fear does not always show up as the “shaking in your boots” feeling of terror that we might think. Fear presents itself as anger, hate, jealousy, apathy, doubt, etc.
We may feel anger towards someone because of something they said about us, but that anger may be an expression of our fear that they don’t like us or our fear other people will think less of us because of what was said.
Sometimes we experience jealousy about the things people have or the recognition they get from others, but fear that we are unable to achieve what they have, or we are not as appreciated as they are, could be the real source of these feelings.
Very often we experience apathy about doing something. It may really need to get done and we would be better off when it does, but we procrastinate. We tell ourselves we just don’t feel like it, but if we dig down deep enough, we may find we are afraid of facing our own insecurities about attempting something with which we don’t have a lot of experience.
At the root of what we identify as the “negative emotions”, if we dig deeply enough, we will find fear. We unconsciously transmute fear into these other feelings because they are more comfortable for us to accept than admitting to being afraid. We don’t feel any sense of control with fear, and it is viewed as a product of weakness. In essence, we are afraid of being afraid.
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Why do we fear so much?
Have you ever had a great day when everything went really well? Your coffee was perfect. People were easy going at work. Your boss gave you a compliment. As you leave work, though, somebody cuts you off in traffic. You almost hit them. They had the nerve to honk their horn and flip you off and referred to you with a term that brought the wholesomeness of your relationship with your mother into question.
What were you thinking about that night as you tried to get to sleep? You had a hundred and one positive things that happened that day to think about, but if you are like most of us, you were thinking about the jerk who cut you off, the negative thing. Why do we tend to recall and hold onto the negative memories more than we do the positive?
There is a beneficial function to holding on to negative things that upset us more than we do the positive things. It helps keep us alive!
Our nervous systems have evolved to be sensitive to the impact of dangerous, emotional, negative events. We have developed the fight or flight response, a function of the sympathetic nervous system which prepares us physically and psychologically to come into conflict with perceived danger or to escape and avoid it. We human beings also have a great capacity for memory. It is to our advantage to easily remember the things that could harm us. It helps us recognize and avoid danger and to predict similar situations in the future. This ability is a blessing and a curse.
The world has changed greatly, and we are not facing wild beasts, harsh environments, or ruthless enemies determined to kill us for our food supply. We now live in a relatively calm and soft world. Modern humans, however, still have nervous systems primed to recall, seek out, and react to threats. Our gift of memory begins to work against us because we are primed to remember the negative experiences and feel the same fear-based emotions. We become very good at what we repeatedly do. So, if we are thinking and feeling negatively more often that we are thinking and feeling positively, we are conditioning our minds and bodies to operate most efficiently in a state of fear, and remember fear can be experienced as several emotions, anger, sadness, apathy, depression, etc.
When fear is caused or reinforced by our pattern of thinking, a common reaction is doubt. We doubt ourselves and our abilities to overcome the source of distress. At these times we often default to the flight aspect of the fight or flight response. We avoid, we contract in our thinking, and we retreat to our Comfort Zones. Comfort zones are prisons with no bars. They are dangerous places that, if we don’t become aware, we will never escape.
Join us for The Art of happiness Part III when we will discuss comfort zones, the power of conscious choice, and finding purpose.
In my clinical practice I regularly ask new clients about some things they would like to have more of in their lives. “I want more happiness” is a frequent response. People want to be happy and to experience more of that feeling more often. Being happy is truly one of life’s most satisfying feelings and it is natural for people to want to experience it in their lives. People, however, have a very difficult time figuring out what being happy really means. They know it is a feeling, but how to make the experience of happiness consistent in their lives escapes them.
Years ago, I led a therapeutic discussion group called The Art of Happiness. I recall a lady asked me if I thought happiness was indeed an art. I told her that I really did. I believe happiness is an art because, while some people may have natural artistic ability, great artists get to be great only through practice. The same is true for happiness; some people may have a happier or feel-good disposition, but natural inclination is not enough. It takes practice to weather the storm of negative life events and maintain an underlying sense of wellbeing and a positive outlook.
In this series of blog posts we will look at the perception of happiness, elements that contribute to it, the attitudes people who deeply experience it in life have, and strategies for cultivating a fulfilling sense of happiness.
What is the difference between enjoyment and happiness?
In any discussion on the nature of happiness and how to experience happiness, it is important to make the distinction between enjoyment and happiness.
What is Enjoyment?
Enjoyment is the appreciation of an experience and the good feelings from the people, places, and things that make up the experience. Enjoyment is short term and does not bring lasting durable satisfaction to your life.
You can experience enjoyment at a party and have a really good time but once the music stops and it is time to go home the enjoyment diminishes and the experience fades.
You can have a lot of enjoyment on a night out with friends at a comedy concert. You may even feel “happy” in the moment, but the next day the experience has benefitted you little more than being a pleasant memory.
An important aspect of enjoyment is that it is based in external factors. If the circumstances of a situation are right, we like it and we feel “happy”. If, however, circumstances are not to our liking, we do not enjoy it and we feel “unhappy". This is very significant in a discussion about happiness because it shows that many people’s experience of enjoyment, which they wrongly think of as “happiness”, is dependent on the circumstances in the moment and is a product of chance. When things are left to chance there is no sense of control, and the contentment we have with our lives is at the mercy of fate.
What is Happiness?
Where enjoyment is dependent on externals and is a product of chance, happiness is grounded in internal qualities and is a product of choice. Happiness is experienced when people cultivate a confident and fluid expression of themselves in their lives. This creates a more durable feeling of wellbeing that is associated with accomplishment. Making accomplishments and living with a sense of purpose tend to produce the lasting satisfaction that is associated with happiness.
In short, you may have chances to take enjoyment, but you make choices to build happiness.
There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoyment, and the capacity to experience enjoyment here and now with spontaneity is an important element in developing a happy personality, but remember it is just an element.
Don’t Confuse Enjoyment with Happiness
A problem arises when people become dependent on the experiences they find enjoyment in. These things become habits and often addictions and people are often unaware of what they sacrifice for this enjoyment. When it reaches this point, people often use their enjoyments as distractions from the responsibilities of life which, ironically, if they would deal with may create a greater sense of security and happiness for them.
Many people live with the delusion that if they can string enough moments of enjoyment together in close enough sequence, they are happy. The problem is the enjoyable experiences probably do not produce anything which adds to the person’s sense of stability or security in life. In fact, they may result in detrimental unintended consequences.
A great many of us find happiness difficult to even conceptualize, let alone achieve. It is a mystery. For us, to choose happiness means we must overcome barriers. Fear is the greatest barrier and the unconscious dependence on comfort keeps us stuck.
How does fear prevent happiness? How do I get unstuck?
Join us for part II of The Art of Happiness next week.
With greater and greater regularity, in my clinical practice, I am meeting with families who are presenting with almost identical problems.
Kids, from early adolescents to teenagers are suffering from anxiety.
“I can’t get them off the damned screen.”
An estimated 95% of teens have smart phones.
The kids that make up what is called Generation Z (born after 1997) are experiencing the highest rates of anxiety and depression ever. Self-harm and suicide rates are up and kids demonstrate less and less ability to manage stress.
What is it about screens that is so addictive and what is the current thinking as to why they have such damaging effects on people?
Whether it be video games, online chat, or “LIKES” of social media posts, screens provide entertainment and stimulation in forms of instant gratification.
Every point scored, opponent defeated, or emoji posted stimulates the immediate production of dopamine, one of the brain’s "feel-good" chemicals.
Prior to today’s levels of technology people more regularly engaged in delayed gratification. They invested more time and effort in long term endeavors which produced more lasting benefits (pleasure, happiness) over time.
The electronic generation has been separated from the stabilizing and resilience building effects of engaging with family, real life socialization, and physicality. Kids receive validation from external sources to such a great degree that they have a dwindling sense confidence in their own adequacy to deal with social interactions. It is a growing concern that we are producing a generation completely unprepared for adulthood.
With the concern of screen addiction and its damaging effects growing at an alarming rate, I would like to provide you with some warning signs that indicate the presence of a potential problem and the possible need to seek professional help
1)Can’t give up the screen: You ask a child or loved one to put the screen away or to do something else and they become distressed and irritable or rush through some other activity to get back on the screen sooner.
2)Competes with real life socializing: Your child meets up with a friend or friends and, rather than interacting with each other, the phones or tablets come out and online gaming commences. You make plans to go somewhere to do something with the family and your child says they do not want to go and asks if they can stay home.
3)Loss of interest in other activities: If screen time has taken the place of activities that had previously been fun and appealing there may be cause to be concerned. For example, if your up-and-coming soccer star decides that she doesn’t want to participate this season and opts to spend her time in online chat.
4)The screen has become a pacifier: If your child has lost their ability to regulate their moods and seems to need screen time to calm down from being upset, or to just be happy then I would urge you to seek help from a professional.
If these warning signs are present in your life and you have determined that there is a problem with screen addiction, rest assured that there are strategies that you can use and steps you can take to regain normalcy in your life.
1)Communicate and Educate: When there are problems in our lives, communication is essential in solving those problems. Without attacking or creating a feeling of blame, talk to your child about the issues of screen addiction. Educate them that it is not just them, but a worldwide concern. Explain to them the nature of dopamine stimulation and addiction.
Enlist their help by getting them to a place of agreement that changes need to be made. An effective way to create this agreement is to ask the child about their goals and aspirations. Ask them what they would like to see themselves doing in their future. Ask them to consider how the use of screen time contributes to achieving that goal. Often, it is easily recognized that screen time in fact detracts from achieving goals.
If a child is unable to identify any aspirations or goals, this is indicative of the problem and should be pointed out and made part of the discussion.
2)Remember it is an addiction: Expect resistance, signs of withdrawal, and periods of relapse. Like chemical dependency, screen addiction has both physical and psychological components. It will not be solved with one well intended conversation. It will take time and consistency in your efforts. Be understanding and accepting of the challenges along the way.
3)There must be limits: Because you have taken the time and care to enlist the child’s agreement, it will be easier to at least set a plan for restricting screen time. This is essential and restrictions need to be realistic and enforceable. Ideas for limits are:
4)Fill the void: When restrictions are in place and your child is making efforts, remember they are making a sacrifice. They are giving up something that fulfilled a need for them. Kids need to have a sense of what they are making the sacrifice for.
Help them fill the time with positive experiences such as sports, classes and other activities which encourage healthy habits. Enlist the help of school mates and their parents to encourage as much in real life interaction as possible. If some of these activities can take place under the guidance of an instructor, coach, or mentor then you have an enlisted another level of support that can have a powerful impact on your child’s positive development.
5)Reinforce it: For your efforts to be effective, they will require consistency over time. Parents must model the same restraint and discipline regarding screen usage that they are asking of their children.
Parents need to get off the “damned screen” too and make the advantages of in real life interaction a part of your regular conversations. Praise your children not only for their accomplishments in the classroom or playing field but also for their positive interactions with other people and their effective handling of difficult social situations.
These warning signs and strategies will play a very important role in helping you identify and deal with the issues surrounding screen addiction. When utilized properly, they will help you regain a sense of normalcy in your life and provide for your child’s positive development.
If you need guidance in applying these tools or need help with screen addiction reach Click here to visit my Contact Us page. Call or email to set up an appointment.
To learn more about the services I provide visit the Services page.
The uncertainty of what the New Normal is going to be is stressing you out.
With each new development as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses we learn more how to best deal with this situation. The 1918 Spanish Flu has valuable historical lessons, but we are in a vastly different era.
Society was mostly agrarian and even the largest cities were not as populated as today. Travel was different, information sharing was different, technology and people's attitudes were vastly different.
Today we find ourselves in a great unknown.
Fear of the unknown is often cited as a leading cause of anxiety and life stress.
Even if people say marriage, work, or finances is the problem, it is often the uncertain nature within those problems that is the cause of the stress.
We are creatures of habit. We create habit and routine not just for convenience but because they offer a sense of control. When life throws us a curveball it removes our comfort and challenges our sense of control.
It is important to understand the nature of stress, the anxiety it creates, and the factors which determine if the stressful situation is a positive growth opportunity or a negative descent into distress.
Good Stress & Bad Stress - Stress is a Motivator
Stress is a natural part of life. Nothing happens without stress. If we are always comfortable, we are not motivated to make any kind of change in our lives. Stress can be a big motivator. Stress can motivate a person towards the stressor in a sense of active engagement to solve the problem.
Good stress is generally a positive experience marked by growth or progress.
Bad stress can also motivate a person away from the stressor in a sense of avoidance to escape the problem. This is marked by anxiety and distress.
What determines whether stress is experienced as positive or negative?
It is the perception of the stress by the person experiencing it, and the key determinant in perception is attitude.
Attitude is everything. This is never truer than when dealing with the adversities of life. It is a person’s belief in the adequacy of their resources, skills, talents, intelligence, finances, etc. to help them succeed that will determine if they approach a problem as a challenge to be overcome (fight response) or a danger to be avoided (flight response).
In short, we make an assessment about our odds. It is critical for you to become aware of your patterns of self-evaluation. Do you tend to automatically follow negative emotions, doubt yourself, and predict worst case scenarios and outcomes, or do you practice optimism, look at situations realistically and envision favorable results?
Human beings are constantly predicting the future in their heads. The problem arises when people fall into patterns of negative expectations. Taking notice of your patterns of thought takes regular practice and is not always easy but is well worth the effort, because there is no greater recipe for anxiety, depression, and failure than falling into the habit of negative thinking.
Negative thoughts lead to painful, distressing emotions which tend to lead to negative behavior, and negative outcomes. This of course tends to reinforce the habit of negative thinking, creating a self-defeating cycle.
There are healthy and productive ways to cope with the anxiety of uncertainty. They take your attention and commitment to practice. The following tips will help you better deal with the stress of uncertainty.
Tip 1: Focus on You (Self and Family)
Mass media coverage of the pandemic tends to draw our attention to the world stage, the “Big Picture”. This is a realm where we have little influence. It is an issue of not seeing the trees for the forest. Focus on and take positive action only on the things you can control.
Tip 2: Communicate With Your Family
In most situations, if there is a problem, enhanced communication is a key part of the solution.
Tip 3: Get Support
You have been encouraged to act with positive purpose and to model confidence but trying to force a positive attitude or be optimistic all the time is unrealistic and can lead to burnout.
Tip 4: Unplug
Getting away from it all can be a big help. Technology is good, but sometimes you need a break.
Tip 5: Get moving
Regular exercise is an effective stress reliever and reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
These 5 simple tips will help reduce stress for you and your family.
If you need to reach out to a qualified professional, click here to visit my Contact Us page. Call or email us to set up an appointment.
To learn more about the services I provide visit our Services page.