Planning vs Worrying

Are you a planner? Do you keep your family’s schedule organized and help juggle all the activities and responsibilities? I am obsessed with planning and feel like it totally helps me to live a happy and balanced life (more details on that to come in another post soon.) But on the flip side, I can also find myself worrying about things like my son’s ear infections or traveling alone to Chicago or really anything having to do with the safety and health of my boys…. So, when I stumbled across an article about the difference between planning and worrying I was intrigued.

It started off by saying we have evolved from the hunter gatherer life and we are programmed to be on the lookout for dangerous or compromising situations. (My husband would love that as he is always bringing it back to our human roots tied to the land and our instincts.) This innate sleuthing thus enabled and enables us to survive. Our parents trained us and now we even do it to our kids.

“We are all the products of men and women who evolved to be wary. There is nothing remarkable about this. We plan our days and our years. From the time we are children, we are told to watch out for strangers, for speeding cars, and for being caught outside in bad weather. We are instructed to eat and sleep properly and take care of ourselves. Doing the right thing becomes automatic-most of the time. We do not worry about these matters. We plan for them. We schedule them. But even as children, and forever after, we also worry about things. What distinguishes those problems we plan for from those we worry about?” 1

We can plan for all sorts of things- like what we will make for dinner this week, what to do for the next girls night out, how to make the upcoming birthday/holiday/party special, saving for retirement, etc. We can plan for big and little things just as we can worry about big and little things. Whether they are important (like the health of our parents or saving for college) or fleeting (like did I remember to start the dishwasher before I left the house or is my friend upset I had to reschedule our lunch), anything you worry about can be consuming and draining.

Here is what Fredric Neuman M.D. says distinguishes the problems we plan for versus those we worry about: “We plan every day for all those things we need to accomplish during the day. We worry about those things that are very difficult or impossible to plan for.”

In other words, we plan for things we can control, and we worry about things that we cannot control or that we can control but may be short on time for like saving money to retire once you are very close to retirement.

He continues, “To put it another way, we can plan for something important and not worry, if it seems to us we are in control. We worry about things we cannot control. So, we worry if a biopsy will come back showing an abnormal growth, we worry about our children using drugs, we worry about not having enough money to pay the mortgage, we may worry about a spouse being unfaithful. These matters seem to be out of our control. They defy our ability to plan for them. Worry is, therefore, an inevitable consequence of the inability to plan successfully. It is as if we our searching our minds for a plan to confront these problems and cannot find one. If we could find one, we would not worry!”1

So as a planner what can I do to stop worrying? Most people say just let it be, or worrying won’t help, or even less helpful some people say just stop worrying about that- as if it’s the easy! But the aha moment for me from this article is that worrying can’t be stopped on its own, you need to plan for your worry and get beyond the “what if….?” To discover the “then what?….”

“The antidote to worry is action. Chronic worriers are simply people who are not good at making plans.”1

I took a little offense to that when I read it since I consider myself a serious planner! But I can look beyond that to see where in worrying about certain areas I never got past that potential problem to get to the part where I make a plan for it.

Actually, I was just in this circumstance last Wednesday. Both of my sons had a cold, one even got an ear infection. My throat began to feel a bit scratchy and my left ear started to hurt a little bit. Normally that wouldn’t be too big of a problem (especially now that my son got tubes for his ears and he didn’t have to get antibiotics, again.) The problem was that I was about to leave for a solo trip to Chicago to visit my 92-year-old grandma and see family and friends and I didn’t want to be sick for it or have a problem flying with a sore ear.

I was worrying and worrying. What if I am coughing and sick and can’t enjoy my trip? What if I bring germs to my grandma or am too sick to see her? What if my eardrum ruptures on the flight? This went on for a while and persisted as I was already in a nervous state as I rarely leave my kids and husband! Then I did what the article talks about, I went from the “What If” to the “Then What…”

I thought ok what’s the worst scenario here, I feel sick and I can’t go visit my grandma. Well then I’ll be alone and can just stay in a hotel. What if my ear ruptures or hurts? Then I will go to the doctor and get past it! Worse case I hurt a little and miss out, not a big deal. So, I let it go with a plan in mind. I went to Chicago; my ear was fine, and I never got the cold. I got to visit my grandma, my family, and old friends. I seriously had the best trip ever and it is pretty hilarious that I even spent one minute worrying about it! But experiences like this help me to do better in the future. And now that I am equipped with the other tips from this article I hope to plan away all my worries in the future!

To wrap it up here is Neuman’s general strategy for dealing with worry:

“No matter how out of control a situation may seem to be, worrying about it can be dispelled by developing a plan of action. The trick, then, for the affected person-or his/her therapist-is to try to find some plan for dealing with that situation. Sometimes a simple exploration of the problem immediately suggests a reassuring response. I worried one time that my daughter would miss a connecting flight. She pointed out to me that the airlines have a way of dealing with that situation. “They will just put me on the next flight,” she told me.” 1

It is funny that I stumbled upon this technique just earlier this week all on my own and I look forward to applying it to any situations in the future where I would normally find myself worrying!

 

1. Neuman M.D., Fredric. “Planning vs. Worrying. The treatment of a worry.” Psychology Today. 04 Dec. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fighting-fear/201612/planning-vs-worrying. Accessed 04 June 2018.

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