From Worry to Wonder
By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
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Ah, if only life were easy all the time. But, of course, it’s not and never will be. Some people, however, make things worse by responding to challenges with a predictably negative pattern.
Yes, we’re all creatures of habit but if we fail to reflect on alternative ways of responding, we get stuck with a limited repertoire of replies, which tends to make any situation worse.
Here are a few examples:
Responding with WORRY:
Anticipating the worst: “What if I mess up?”
Catastrophizing: “I’m so embarrassed; I could die!”
Minimizing your coping skills: “I’ll never be able to deal with this.”
Focusing on what will go wrong: “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Responding with CRITICISM:
Blaming: “How could you be so stupid?”
Finding Flaws: "I look so fat in this photo; it's disgusting!"
Detesting mistakes: “What an unforgivable flub!”
Viewing blunders as personal failures “I can never do anything right.”
Responding with HOPELESSNESS:
Predicting the worst: “Today’s terrible; tomorrow will be worse.”
Believing there’s no hope: “It’ll never get better; it’s all hopeless.”
Focusing on past mistakes: “If only I had done ….”
Viewing obstacles as insurmountable: “I can’t do it; I just can’t.”
All three of these approaches hinder your ability to think, to cope, to find a way to deal with the problem. They put a negative spin on the situation, curtailing your energy, deflating your self-esteem. Instead of making things easier, they invite you to torture yourself without any resolution.
So, if worry, criticism or hopelessness are your standard operating styles, you must not invite them to stay. When they show up at your door, take an active stance and shove them out the door.
Here are ways to do so:
- Calm yourself down in any way you know how. It may be deep breathing, massage, taking a nap, watching a movie. Then, take action.
- Talk to a trusted friend (or mental health professional) who has a calm demeanor. Ask for feedback. Actively listen to what the other person has to offer you in terms of suggestions and strategies for how to cope with your situation.
- When you feel calmer, reframe your problem. As you cast your problems in a different light, you gain new perspectives on what’s happening. Rather than seeing your situation as “hopeless,” you may start to view it as “difficult but something you can do something about.”
- Research to get ideas to help you. No matter what you’re facing in life, there are others who have faced the same situation. Maybe not exactly the same, but close enough. Learn from them! You are not alone!
- Rephrase your thoughts, using less negative words. Instead of calling yourself (or someone else) dumb, speak about it as an ‘oops moment’!
- Remember that you’ve got a thinking mind, not just fearful, angry, depressed emotions. There are many situations that you’ve handled well. Conjure them up. Awaken the memories of your successes!
We all need to master the above skills to help us get through tough situations. Without these skills, we get stuck in negative ruts, bringing ourselves down and taking as hostages those who live and work with us. There’s no fun in that; for you or for the others!
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.