Mark Twain said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in life, most of which never happened.” Boy, how I identify with that statement. The practice is called “catastrophizing” and I’m so good at it. I’ve had lots and lots of practice. But worrying does not get you where you need to go, meaning it’s unproductive. It’s like being stuck on a muddy country road, spinning your wheels, digging a deeper hole, not going any further.
Changing habits that have been fine-tuned over many years is not an easy task and doesn’t just happen by saying, “I’m not going to worry about that.” We can learn to unlearn behaviors, especially ones that don’t serve us well. For me, changing habits requires a plan. It requires taking control and beyond that, acknowledging what can be controlled and what can’t.
Can I control or change the reality of a cancer diagnosis? No. Can I control or change the reality of the pandemic? No. Can I control the weather? No. Can I control what someone thinks of me or someone else’s actions? No.
In days past when I didn’t manage catastrophic thinking (always expecting the worst), I always felt anxious and out of control. Changing catastrophic thinking is about taking control when you can – being realistic, deliberate, and intentional, changing one’s self-talk – and yes, having a plan: Talking to another cancer survivor or two to learn how they managed and not expecting a death sentence; knowing which activities are less risky during a pandemic and not expecting to end up on a ventilator; listening to travel advisories to know when it’s safe to travel and not expecting to have a multi-car pileup; being hopeful and realistic, yet prepared for many possibilities.
The old proverb that says “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” doesn’t mean expect the worst. It means having a Plan B if things don’t go as planned. Life will likely feel out of control at one time or another. But I can exercise control – not over everything that happens – but over my thoughts, my actions, my interactions, and sometimes my circumstances. I can prepare for the worst, but always, always hope for the best.
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SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
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