The Women in Medicine Badass RadioshowEpisode #27: Compartmentalize Your Worries
Hello and welcome back all you ladies out there. Thank you so much again for the work that you’re doing. Today what I want to do is talk to you about is how to compartmentalize your worries. So if you are somebody who tends to worry a lot, this is going to really help you have another tool in your toolbox in terms of how to manage those worried thoughts.
So the thing to consider here is this: Often times we think about things that we don’t know the answer to and so the kinds of thoughts that go through our mind are thoughts that start with the words “What if..” and then we tend to catastrophize and think about all the worst things that can happen. I know you probably can relate to this but just to kind of set the stage for this, I just had an experience with my eleven-year-old daughter around this issue.
So we went to get her immunizations and she was very anxious about getting the shot because she was worried that it would be hurtful. She was worried about it hurting not just when she got the actual injection but also the next day, which is valid. But she was so anxious about it, she started worrying about it a day in advance and then she was worried about it in the car drive over to the hospital, and then she was worried about it when she was get about to get injected, and then she was really kind of melting down because now it became not just about that injection itself and the pain associated with it but then she created all of these stories about what’s going to happen the next day. So she, at the time, was going to a day camp where they were riding horses and so she was so worried that her arm was going to be so painful that she won’t be able to hold onto the reins and then she was going to fall off the horse.
So she started to cry incessantly at the doctor’s office because she was creating this whole scenario in her head about this catastrophe and how she’s going to really hurt herself and it was going to escalate and it was really snowballing in her mind. And of course the next day she goes to camp and it’s a little sore but nobody fell off any horse, I can tell you that.
But I want you to think about how similar your brain works and how you tend to create these stories as well, right? We all do that to some point where we think about all the worst things that can happen, especially when there is some sort of a change, something that we don’t know for certain, something that is unfamiliar or unpredictable. And that’s because our brain likes predictability. Our brain likes to latch onto things that it knows is going to happen for sure.
So like if you know that every day you get off at work at 5 o’clock then you have something to look forward to. You can anticipate that. You can count down from it.
But let’s say one day you’re at work, and I’m sure this happens to you guys all the time, where something happened and you have to stay late. Now you’re like, “Well, I got to go pick up my kid” or “I got to make dinner” or whatever the case may be and now you’re worried about being late for the next thing that you have to do. Or you are stuck in traffic and then you’re like, “How I’m going to make it to this appointment on time?” Or, “How am I going to make it to pick up my kid?”
Something that comes to mind for me was one time they were having this festival in the park and I was trying to get from work to pick up my kids. They were in preschool at the time and like the city was practically shut down. There was so much traffic bumper to bumper that it didn’t matter which direction you were going. You basically were in a parking lot and I was calling frantically to figure out like what to do cuz I have to go pick up my kids and the teachers wanted to go home and I just couldn’t get there in time. So right, we all can get into these situations but the question then is what do you do about that? Do you let your brain go off on tangents and create all kinds of scenarios and say, “Oh my God! Now that I can’t make it in time this catastrophe is going to happen” or do you say to yourself, “All right. It is what it is. I’ll get there when I get there. This is the best I can do and there’s no reason to really worry about it because there’s nothing I do about this, right?
So what I want to offer is that as easy as this may sound, it may not be so easy to do. It’s simple but not necessarily easy. The one tool that I wanted to share with you guys is this idea of compartmentalizing your worries. Now what I’m what are referring to when I say this you perhaps think about how to have specific times during which you allow your brain to go off on these tangents and to have a little meltdown, right? So in other words instead of it having these worries all throughout the day, if that’s kind of how your brain works currently and you’re constantly anxious and nervous and worried, then to say to yourself, “I will allow for a specific time of day when I sit down for let’s say 30 minutes and I can worry about all the things” right? And then I can maybe you can sit down with a notebook and really listen to what does inner voice is trying to tell me and take some notes and really be like a listening ear and allow it to really ventilate. Allow it to come out and tell me all the worries. And then I can be really clear minded in how to deal with it and then move forward from there.
So one thing that you could do is — let’s say your kids go to bed at 8, from 8 to 8:30 every night you’re allow yourself that 30 minutes to just worry about all the things, which means that during the day instead of you worrying about all kinds of things that could happen tomorrow and next week and in a year from now, you’ll say to yourself, “I’m not going to worry about this now. I’ll think about it at 8 o’clock tonight. So you kind of predetermine when you will have your worry time and that clears the rest of the day from all of this constant barrage of worried thoughts.
So this is just a technique that you can utilize to really think about all the ways in which you can condense the time during which you worry. And then when you’re sitting there and giving yourself that proper space and breathing room to think about all these things that maybe are worrisome and maybe deserve a little bit of your attention, then you have an opportunity to really go through all the things that you worried about. You can actually write them down, as I mentioned, which is of beautiful opportunity to really look at them in more detail. And then you can think about, “Okay, is this helpful for me to think about? Is this based on any sort of evidence that I have?” Or you can ask yourself, “How likely is it that this event is going to happen in the way that I’m worried about?” And then that’s an opportunity to either rewrite the thought into something that’s more helpful or something that is more likely or to problem-solve because maybe it is actually something that could happen and then you can say to yourself “So if that happens I will do X.” And you can even, if you’re very worried, have a plan B to your plan A, if you will.
This is an opportunity for you to take back control of that worried mind, to have it happen in a shorter amount of time so it’s not all throughout the day, and then to really clean up your thoughts and think about what is most helpful, what is most likely, and what can I do about it so that I don’t sit in that rumination where I’m constantly repeating those worried thoughts to myself but actually doing something about it.
When my daughter was going through her worried thoughts about falling off the horse and about the pain, I was trying to coach her through this and basically say to her you know, “How likely is it that you’re going to fall off that horse?” Now what I want to say is that sometimes when we’re very agitated, when we’re already worked up, it’s hard for us to think straight. It’s hard for us to think in a rational way. So if you find that you are really worked up and you catch yourself, then it’s an opportunity to first and foremost calm yourself down. So you’ve got to take some deep breaths, you’ve got to kind of change or alter your state before you can do this work.
So I just want to use that as a caveat because my daughter was so emotional in that moment that nothing I was going to say or any coaching that I was going to offer her was going to be really helpful. So I want you to think about that and how you can use that as an opportunity to be like “Okay. I’m really worked up right now. Let me just take some deep breaths and then I can recalibrate.”
All right. So I hope that you use this to your advantage and have less worried time. I’ll see you next week.