The Well

Tag: Perspective

Lessening the Worry

by Andrew Shaw on Oct.04, 2009, under Archives

Times are tough right now.  With the state of the world, the economy, the job market, it’s hard not to feel anxious.  In my psychotherapy practice, nearly every one of my clients have expressed concern or reported an increase in anxiety, worry and fear.  If you’re struggling financially, lost your job, facing foreclosure, trying to make ends meet, or simply exposed to an uncertain future, you most likely are feeling overwhelmed and scared.  But, the fear doesn’t have to take over.  There are ways to keep it in check and lessen the worrying.

Practice Acceptance- Life is full of ups and downs, cycles of good and bad.  Troubles are inevitable.  We tend to forget this, and instead think that life is supposed to be perfect all the time.  And then, we’re upset, anxious and unhappy if it isn’t.  When you remind yourself that life has its ups and downs, you’ll worry less and be better able to tolerate the downs.  Accepting this process, accepting what is, can be incredibly helpful.

Turn Down the Negative, Turn Up the Positive- Staying informed is important.  But with the way the news is today, it can quickly overwhelm you.  Try taking a news holiday; don’t watch the news for awhile, or at least try not to obsess over the bad news reports.  Life will be happier and less worrisome if you focus on uplifting rather than depressing things.  It’s also good to know that we do have some control over our sense of well-being.  It depends on our mindset, intention, and daily action.  Even something as small and basic as smiling can lift our spirits.  Staying positive and keeping an optimistic attitude is extremely important.  Rather than worrying about losing something you have or focusing on what you lack, try paying more attention to what you do have now.  Researchers have found that being thankful and cultivating gratitude makes people happier.  Try keeping a gratitude journal, writing down all the things you feel grateful for.  Or at the end of your day, write down three good things that happened that day.

Choose Not to Worry and Dwell- If we do have some control over the amount of our worrying, then we can consciously choose whether to worry or not.  Of course it’s good to be prepared, to have a plan for the “what if…” But continuing to worry on, to dwell, or think about an event over and over, is unhelpful and can keep us stuck.  When you notice that you’re ruminating, or dwelling on something, see if you can distract yourself by bringing your full attention to other things or activities.  Read a book, watch a light-hearted movie, go out with a friend, exercise.  You can also make a worry appointment, a short set time during your day when you’re allowed to do all your worrying.  If you find yourself worrying at other times during the day, put it on hold and save it for your set aside worry time. 

Stay Connected- When things go bad, we have a tendency to isolate, to feel singled out and helpless.  Sometimes we hide and avoid interacting with the rest of the world.  But being alone and isolated from others actually increases our sense of alienation, sadness, hopelessness and fear.  Reaching out to friends or family, or relying on a supportive community during difficult times is a powerful antidote.  By engaging with others, you can find support and compassion, ideas and solutions.

Maintain Perspective- Even during hard times, we can always shift our perspective.  We can remind ourselves that there are others who are going through similar challenges, and many more who are bearing heavier loads.  (Read 9-27-09 Post, Finding Perspective).  We can also remember that during other times in history, like the Great Depression, things were even worse.  And despite the tremendous hardships of that day, people were able to persevere; to fall in love, to laugh and smile, to raise their children, to grow closer with family, to strengthen their hope and faith, and even amidst the darkest hours, to find moments of light and joy.

As always, if you have questions or comments, please post…

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Finding Perspective

by Andrew Shaw on Sep.27, 2009, under Archives

I recently traveled to Seattle to visit my brother.  For the past six months, he has been struggling with tremendous pain from serious back problems–a bulging disc, pinched nerves, intense pain.  There was a period a few weeks ago when he could barely move at all, even walking was unbearable.  He has been dealing with this for over half a year, his life turned upside down, visiting doctors all the time, trying to find some way to manage the pain.  Given all that my brother is going through right now, you’d think he would be angry or maybe depressed.  That would be totally valid and understandable.  But he wasn’t.  During the few days I spent with him, I was amazed by his attitude, his patience and acceptance.  Even in the presence of incredible physical pain, and the inconveniences that it’s creating in his life, he has been able to maintain perspective.  I heard him say it numerous times, his mantra seems to be, “I’m okay, things could be so much worse.”  He is able to recognize that even though his situation is hard, there are even worse problems in the world, and there are others who are bearing even more.  This situation actually seemed to be teaching him how to be more patient, more accepting, more grateful for the things he does have and the things he is able to do. 

Being with my brother, observing how he was handling this challenge, was quite a lesson for me and an important reminder about the helpfulness of finding perspective.  My own problems and worries somehow seemed smaller now.  Unlike my brother, I’m not in pain.  I’m able to walk.  I’m able to do so many of the things we normally just take for granted.  Shifting perspective can be one of the most powerful and effective tools we have to cope with life’s problems and to develop a calmness of mind. 

When facing difficulties or problems, you can try to widen your perspective.  You can reflect on others, realizing there are many people who have gone through similar experiences, and many more who are going through even worse.  Rather than focusing too closely on the problem, getting absorbed and making it bigger, you can compare it to some other situation or greater event.  If you look at the same problem from a distance, it appears smaller and less overwhelming.  Let my brother serve as a reminder, and like my brother, approach problems with his mentality, “I’m okay, it could be worse.”  We can increase our life satisfaction and well-being by expanding our perspective, by comparing ourselves to those who are less fortunate and by reflecting on all that we have.  In a few weeks, I’ll post some more tips for increasing perspective, including a gratitude meditation.  Keep visiting!

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