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Nov 29, 2016 04:24PM

Battling the "what-if": Learning when to put the brakes on worry

By Annie L. Scholl
Recently I had dinner with a dear friend. My usually easygoing pal seemed distracted, troubled. I expected the worst — something with her job, her health, her child. As it turned out, she had a dripping bathroom faucet.

The sound alone was maddening, but her attention was on the "what if?" What if the issue wasn't a cheap and easy fix? What if fixing it meant tearing into the bathroom wall of her new home?

For two weeks, she worried. She lost sleep, ramped up her anxiety, exhausted herself. In the end, a plumber came and fixed the issue within an hour. The cost: $99.

Watching my friend twist and turn over something that didn't come to pass got me thinking about worrying. Why do we do it when it doesn't change the outcome?

Or does it?

My friend agreed that she had wasted precious energy worrying about something that, in the end, didn't happen. But what worrying did do for her, she says, was motivate her to get as prepared as possible. She watched YouTube videos of the creative ways people solved the plumbing issue she was having. She discovered there was a special tool made just for this issue, so she bought it.

As it turned out, her plumber had never heard of the tool. He used it, and — voilà! — it worked. My friend believes her research — sparked by worry — kept the plumber from making the small, inexpensive job a big, costly one.

Who can argue?

I took to Facebook, then, asking: Does worrying help you, or do you spend a good deal of time wringing your hands and spinning your mental wheels for no good reason?

More than 50 people posted. Some called themselves worrywarts. One friend says a little worry helps her remember to double check things and finish things. If she can't fix something, she lets it go and hands it over to God. Other friends also drew on their faith rather than worry.

Many say the majority of what they worry about doesn't come to pass — and one friend says that even if it does, it usually works out somehow. "Dealing with it in the moment is much more productive," she says.

Another friend says worrying is a distraction that carries him away from "now." It feeds his anxiety loop and is an investment of his energy that rarely, if ever, pays off.

For me, worry lands in my solar plexus. I feel it churning there, often in the middle of the night. I'll lie in bed, allowing worry to consume me. Like my friend, I'll get caught up in the "what ifs," and follow one thought and then another until I put on the brakes. I'll mediate my own mind.

My first question: "What exactly are you worried about?"

Once I determine what's gnawing at me, I can decide on a course of action. If there's something I can do, I make a plan to do it — if it's mine to do. Yes, often my worries have nothing to do with me. At times like that, I remind myself to get back into my own boat and let the person I'm worrying about steer his or her own.

There are times, though, such as last night, when figuring out what's disturbing my peace isn't as easy. I just know that I'm unsettled. When that happens, journaling helps. So does walking and talking to myself. Fortunately, I live in the country, so I can talk to myself without raising eyebrows (except my dogs').

To get to the crux of what's up, I continue to ask questions. Someone once suggested that I go straight down the rabbit hole to the most stressful thought of all. For example, once I was so concerned about money that I went to the worst-case scenario: I could lose my home. By asking, "What if I lose my home?" I determined that if I did, I had plenty of people in my life who would take me in and feed me.

The worst case, while certainly not desired, wasn't that horrible after all.

My belief system tells me that which I focus on expands. I do my best to mind my mind; to keep my focus on what I want in my life, not what I don't want.

When worry gets a hold of me — and it does — I do my best to not let it get the best of me.
Ann Ring is a frequent Radish contributor.

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