What, Me Worry?

Last week’s comments, about how many of us are worried, anxious, and fretful, started me thinking about my mom. She used to say that she got stupid when she was anxious. She was right on the science, apparently (though she was never stupid). When we use up a lot of our mental bandwidth fretting–about money, about health, about housing, about headlines we can’t control–we lose cognitive ability to the tune of as much as 13 IQ points. We don’t problem solve as well when we’re worried. We become more impulsive, and we make more errors.

Which results in… more anxiety.

And this in turn led to me to recall a class I took about twenty-five years ago, “Sustaining the Peacemaker.” I was in a conflict studies master’s program, and my classmates were from South Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, the Baltimore slums, and so forth. They were coming from and preparing to return to areas gripped by deadly strife.

The idea was to give some thought then–in the midst of the academic oasis–to how to get the trauma, worry, exhaustion, and despair deflector shields up and how to keep them up so the peacemaker’s well being didn’t become yet another casualty of the conflict. We also looked at, “When do you know you’re beginning to stumble?” I learned some strategies for managing worry that I still use today.

I garden with my bare hands, because playing in the dirt makes me happy (I’ve got science on my side). Yard flowers make me really happy (and there’s science behind that too). I live where I can hear the birdies singing (more science). I walk for the recommended thirty minutes a day, usually more. I read good fiction.  I spend time at the horse barn, I consort with cats, I practice mindfulness when the worry gets really bad.

I avoid news and social media until after I’ve written the day’s scenes, and I never EVER let that baloney near me at the beginning or end of the day. Not. Ever. A quick skim in the middle of the day (unless I need to do a PR post at higher traffic hours), and then I bounce off to do jig saw puzzles, get after the weeding, or tend to my “one thing a day for the house.” I regard those activities as clearing the social media/news trash from my emotional buffers. I will be darned if I will let the bottomless greed of the Zuck’s of the world steal my fire.

This is only a partial list of my coping strategies, but I find the very act of looking over all the actions I can take to keep myself safe and sane–from simple stuff, like a gratitude journal or jasmine-scented candle, to not so simple stuff like professional body work–is empowering in itself. A worried author is not at her best, just as a worried, parent, spouse, teacher, neighbor, and so forth is not at her best. For myself, and for my readers, I want to be at my best.

I challenge you each to give some thought to the list of strategies and skills you have for keeping the Undertoads from stealing your fire. My guess is, the lists are long, creative, and powerful.

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10 comments on “What, Me Worry?

  1. Grace I LOVE this comment of yours: “I will be darned if I will let the bottomless greed of the Zuck’s of the world steal my fire.”

    YES!! I feel that way exactly. Right now, while my schedule is so overwhelmed, I find the only chance I have to glance at news headlines in late at night when I’m supposed to be winding down for bed. NOT GOOD! I look forward to my schedule clearing out in a few months where I can be more thoughtful abut when I consume my information!!

  2. So good for me to read this Blog post, Grace! I’ve been bewaring the Undertoad ever since reading John Irving’s World According to Garp. But I need reminding…
    A cautionary word to all, however, about bare-hand gardening. That’s me, too. The warning is: Make sure there are no breaks in your skin! And wash hands really well and often. I just got home from the hospital after 2 days of non stop IV antibiotics in both arms. Cellulitis in a finger. We licked it after 7 different antibiotics starting outpatient before it was so bad that IVs were needed. I was not aware I had a break in my skin, but it probably happened when I was gardening and I did not even notice. At least that is all I can think of!
    Enjoy Summer and the Garden with Care!!

  3. I’d like to add ending the day with letting a well-loved audiobook read me to sleep. I learned this trick a few years back when our Grace’s audiobooks read in James Langton’s luscious voice kept me sane as I huddled in my closet while the winds of a Cat 3 hurricane shook my house. I lost myself in the story while my blood pressure lowered as my muscles relaxed & my heart rate went down.

    Now I use an Echo device that responds to sleepy voice commands & set the sleep timer for 70 minutes (the length of a sleep cycle). I can’t count the nights our Grace’s books have sent me to sweet slumber as her beloved characters work things out. I can always count on Their Graces and the rest to guard my slumber no matter what the conniptions the world is having.

    It won’t work until I’ve read the book ragged & can almost recite the dialogue by heart. But once I have loved it into Real, to quote the Velveteen Rabbit (best loved children’s book), I can count on my book friends on nights when I’m wrestling my pillow.

  4. I’ll be happy once I get this dang work problem fixed. In the meanwhile, futile hours at the grindstone.

  5. I always look forward to your weekly letter. I get it late for some reason, so I get to read other people’s comments too. I get all the news out of the way in the morning when I am feeling strong, and have breakfast to look forward to (peaches!) Then I ignore it for the rest of the day. My worry time is the middle of the night if I wake up and can’t go back to sleep–health! War! family! money!–so I make up stories in my head that will never be published, and all have bits and pieces from Grace, Stephanie Laurens, Mary Jo, Jo Bourne, etc., a conglomeration of the gentlemen and ladies I like best, doing stuff like chatting and having dinner and little adventures post-Waterloo, when they have made lives and families for themselves. Silly but it does distract me from pointless worrying. During the day I am usually fine – I have volunteer things that are useful and interesting, I go to the gym, where I actually DO exercise and I have some gym buddies. And my porch is a lovely spot to sit and look at the trees and the sky and contemplate the eternal verities. Looking forward to the Gentleman!

  6. Jeannette, I’ve told myself stories since I was small. Then I listened to my daughter re-cast her day complete with voices as she went to sleep. Everything went her way in the re-telling.

    “Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
    The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
    Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
    Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” (Wm Shakespeare)

    Of any and all of my coping strategies, sleep is the best one. The tricks to having a good sleep are many and varied. If I can stop a racing mind for a minute or two, I’ve been known to name my worry, pat it on the head, give it a cup of hot milk and put it to bed. (Sometimes works with ear worms.) I’ll write a note to address it in the morning, if it’s important. For some bizarre reason, a piece of cheese by the bed is helpful!

  7. This is a family trait for me, which I have worked to combat with enough sleep, good nutrition and exercise plus yoga and yoga breathing. Finding what you love to do is important for me, and recognizing what makes me crazy and either avoiding it or preparing myself beforehand if I can’t. Being careful about media consumption is a good one, though, I’ll incorporate this going forward.

  8. I call this “Unleashing Bliss”. I thought about devoting a website to this. I even bought the domain name, but I’ve not done anything with it. I don’t believe we need to find bliss, just need to unleash it. I love what you do to unleash your bliss.

  9. My strategies are of the tried and true variety – good sleep, eat healthy food mostly, walks, yoga, meditation etc. I also limit my news consumption and have no social media. I love the idea of listening to a favorite audio book to fall asleep with, I think I will give that a try if my mind is refusing to stand down. Thanks for the tip Beth!

  10. I am concentrating on making my home a sanctuary. I want to love everything in it so I’m stress free. This has meant getting rid of so much! But if I don’t love it, it’s gone. I want to be able to look anywhere in my home and think “I love that picture, I love my blinds, I love the color of the walls.” Stress-free.