When the death of a loved one occurs it often brings a cascade of emotions to the surface that need to be expressed. However, all too often what tends to hide in the background of grief is a combination of fear, loss of control, and worry. All three are closely related and bring an increasing amount of pain and suffering.
The imagination has a habit of taking fear and magnifying it into horrifying proportions. Then we begin to worry about paying bills, finding or keeping a job, deciding on moving, deteriorating health, or a host of other worrisome topics. We become afraid of losing what little control we have left.
Some worry is good as it helps motivate us to get started or finish a necessary task, even avoid danger. Much can be done to manage toxic worry, to take excessive worry and turn it into something constructive. Here are seven approaches to employ.
1. Decrease time spent in worry by creating a “worry time. " Find a time during the day when you can relax and spend 20-30 minutes going over whatever you are worried about. Decide on a plan to use in dealing with the specific problem. Ask yourself what information you will need to make decisions on how to respond. At other times, when you are alone and start to worry, tell yourself you will deal with it at the next “worry time" and return to whatever you were doing.
2. Plan for the worst and then devise strategies to deal with the worst case scenario. Another approach to use during “worry time" is to look at the worst possible thing that could happen if what you are worrying about came true. Like you lose your job, and have to move out of your home. Think of all the possible approaches you can employ to deal with those twin changes. Who can you turn to? Where will you stay? Discuss this with friends. Remember, planning is positive as it takes your focus away from the act of worrying.
3. Make a pact with yourself to only worry with a trusted friend. Outside of “worry time" choose to worry only if you can speak with a trusted friend about your worry. Someone else may well be able to give you a new angle to consider. There is a universal need for good listeners in times of distress. Seek them out and make use of the great therapeutic advantage they provide.
4. Take immediate action. Once you have a plan, do something, anything. Start with positive self-talk, then decide who to consult (get all the facts and information about the potential problem), and how you will keep yourself from constantly dwelling on your worry. Perhaps your next step will be sharing your plan for feedback. We all can profit from the observations of others.
5. Try thinking of some of your damaging worry as a form of self-centeredness brought on by negative thinking. Some people are able to reduce the intensity of worry by realizing that continuous worry is spiritual nearsightedness and simply feeds the internal critic who constantly looks to bring negativity into any existing problem. Keep telling yourself to guard against catastrophizing the act of worrying. Say to yourself, “Its not as bad as I’m making it out to be. I will handle this. " Then employ a diversion or your plan.
6. Be motivated to limit worry by realizing that for every worrisome though you generate you are paying a physical price on the cellular level. Because most worries never happen, keep in your thoughts the valid observation that unchecked worry takes a damaging physical toll; it drains energy. Counter the effects by taking a daily walk or do other exercise to provide a physical outlet for the emotional stimuli to muscles and the elevation of anxiety levels.
7. Prayer works in dealing with worry. At some point during each day—especially at the end of “worry time"—tell yourself you’ve done enough, and hand your worry over to your Higher Power. Ask for courage and wisdom to choose the right path, to break the out-of-control habit. Fulton Sheen said, “All worry is atheism, because it is a want of trust in God. " Trust your Higher Power will give you the insights to solve your worries and reduce the stress they generate.
In summary, if you choose to worry, make a firm commitment that you will get all of the information needed to deal with it. Push toxic thoughts into the background of your thought life. Look only at the many possibilities you possess—that is what hope is all about.
Become aware of more possibilities by bouncing your worries off of your trusted friends. Ask this possibility producing question: “What would you do, in this situation?" Take what you can use to reduce worry and let the rest go. You will tame your worries.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, the popular Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His free monthly ezine website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com