OK, so the Christmas list is done. Chocolates for the in-laws, a football for the kid next door, a book token for Uncle Jim. But what to get my mother… You would think that with nearly 40 years of experience of buying presents for her I would have got the hang of it by now!
For some people, concerns like this can build quickly into all-consuming fears. Will she think less of me? What will she tell her friends? Did I give her that last year?
And none of these questions have a definite answer – especially because I put last year’s list in the trash.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a common condition where the sufferer is stuck in cycles of worry – they just don’t seem to be able to let it lie. It can cause muscular tension, disturbed sleep, tiredness and family arguments to name a few of the effects. This is especially tricky when the worry is about questions that really don’t have an answer or when ‘big issues’ like family and faith are involved. Will there be a family row? Have I offended God?
(No this is not an over-reaction; worriers think like this!)
The most important first step is to see if the worry is about a solvable problem or one of these ‘floating’ questions. Solvable worry, like ‘Which wrapping paper?
’, can be addressed by structured problem solving – visiting the local shop, seeking advice and making a logical choice. This problem has an answer and it is procrastination that is the main problem. Oh, and if you know what your mom wants but are waiting for the miracle of a better idea – then get on with it and buy it.
‘Floating’ worries on the other hand, like ‘Will I spend the ‘right’ amount – not too much and not too little?
’ are times when planning can only take you so far. Some people seem to have faith that they are in the right ball park; worriers lie awake at night going over this again, and again, and again… Should it be $22 or £25? Will I get a better bargain if I search more online? What is the right amount of time to worry about how much more time I should spend searching?
(Yes, worriers think like this too!)
It’s no use trying not to worry – about as useful as trying not to breathe – instead something else needs to be done instead. Some floating worries respond to being labeled (‘You are just as nasty worry-thought – go away!
). Others need to be examined for evidence for and against – there is no smoke without fire and mom did seem to sneer at last year’s offering, but worriers tend to over rate the scary bits and under rate the contrasting facts.
A few will be dealt with by recognizing the drivers for worry – some people hold onto the familiarity of worry like a favorite blanket or song. Better the devil you know… Worrying feels like I am actually doing something. Worry worked for me that time; once, five years ago.
The real trick of course is for worriers to learn how to manage life’s concerns like a non-worrier, where things just seem to pass them by. We all worry sometimes, but this ability to not react to worrying thoughts is a key skill. Techniques like contemplation, mindfulness and breathing can really help here. Compassion (being kind to yourself) is not a bad skill to pick up either – after all, you re trying to be kind to your mother. It can be really hard to try and be as considerate of our own feelings when worry is in charge. I have done what I can to find her a present I believe she will like; worrying more will not help me and will make me sick.
These skills and more are covered in a new book from Simon and Schuster in the USA:
The End of Worry, by Will van der Hart and Rob Waller. Available May 2013.
Preorder now: $11.99