BY ANDREW MCDONALD
EVENTS which are bigger than us, that we have no way of controlling, are responsible for a great deal of anxiety. Whether bad news stories, and there are plenty of those, things which are happening to loved ones over which we have no influence, or even details about our own lives which are partly or wholly shaped by other people, all of them can lead to stress. The big question is whether that building up of mental tension is a worthwhile activity.
Of course, it’s not easy to dismiss worries. As human beings, we crave certainty. Things which we have no control over leave us feeling uneasy because we can’t predict the outcome. However, we are also guilty of catastrophising, of building these details of life into such big issues that we can’t see the wood for the trees or that we view what will really, in the end, turn out to be trivial as something life-changing. How many of us can remember what we were worrying about five years ago?
One way of dealing with stressful events is to analyse what you can and can’t control. If there is a possibility of doing something to positively influence the outcome, do it. If there isn’t, all the worrying in the world isn’t going to change anything. All you’re doing is making yourself miserable.
Sometimes thinking about what could happen is actually worse than the event itself. This, again, is human nature. By concerning ourselves with things outside our sphere of influence, we start to consider all kinds of possibilities, however unrealistic. Worse still, typically we start to fixate on the ways things could go wrong rather than how they could go right. Have you ever wondered why many newspapers seem full of bad stories? Simply because that’s what captures human imagination. In other words, it’s what sells.
Nobody should ever claim that preventing ourselves from worrying is easy. In fact, worry in and of itself can sometimes be a positive. It can motivate us to action, to do something to change our situation. However, it can only do that when we are actually able to influence events, otherwise it’s futile.
That said, how can we avoid stressing over things we can’t do anything about? One useful technique is to get a blank piece of paper and write down your stream of thoughts. You don’t need to structure your writing, just let the ideas flow from your brain to the page. What this does is subconsciously send a signal to your mind that you’ve dealt with that particular issue, you’ve taken action. You may never actually do anything tangible about the issue but without you
perhaps even realising it, your brain feels you’ve done something. If that’s all you can do, fine, leave it on the paper and get on with something you can alter the outcome of. That is, after all, a better use of your time.