Harnessing Your Demons: Part 2
Making Worry Demons Work for You instead of Against You

This month’s newsletter is about applying the concepts from last month’s newsletter, Part 1 to the most common demon, worry and its cousins: what worry is good for and trying to tell us, how to work with and subdue it, and examples of how to use the emotional health tools (Counter, Dismiss, Distract, Laugh, Gratitude, Transform) for coping with this unwanted emotion.

Worry, Anxiety, Sense of Foreboding, Fear
“Worry is a misuse of imagination.”                                                Dan Zadra

Unharnessed worry, like any other unharnessed demon, causes much pain and grief.
It can go from a mild, never-quite-at-ease feeling to a full-scale panic attack with many related feelings in between. For some people, worry spoils all pleasure in life, causing fruitless pre-occupation with things that never happen. Worry sometimes seems to paralyze people, keeping them from taking constructive action in any area, and leading to out-of-control clutter.

These are all the same demon from different angles and at differing levels of intensity and immediacy. These messages may mean that we need to pay attention to something important, that we aren’t doing something we know we should, or just that our demons are trying to run our lives; the challenge is to figure out which your worry is.
Sometimes we are trained to worry by our parents who want us to worry about potential outcomes of reckless behaviors. Religious leaders teach us to be in a state of permanent fear of damnation and the wrath of an almighty deity. Some people develop anxiety as a result of family or life stress or tension. Others become stuck in fear as the result of traumas as in cases of PTSD. A few people seem to have genetically caused anxiety that is difficult to treat. But most of us learn to worry as a response to conditions over which we feel we have little or no control.

The first task of putting worry behind you is to evaluate the odds of the thing you are worried about vs. something you aren’t worried about but might be more realistic. For example, many people are worried about ISIS terrorists, but they have killed 64 Americans worldwide (including San Bernardino), but gun violence kills 30,000+ Americans per year (toddlers are an increasing number of these victims) and cars kill another 30,000+, largely due to alcohol and texting while driving.

Ebola provoked mass hysteria in the US but only killed two people, but medical errors kill 230,000 - 400,000 people yearly (depending upon which study you believe {1}) while provoking hardly any public discussion. Diseases that are often  preventable through self-care kill many Americans every year:
- heart disease kills 611,000,
- strokes another 129,000, and
- diabetes kills 76,000 (many deaths attributed to stroke and heart disease are
actually the result of diabetes)

Despite these statistics, few people voice concern or make efforts to prevent these outcomes. Why worry about ISIS if your or your neighbor’s houses are full of guns? Why fret about Ebola if your doctor or hospital has many malpractice lawsuits or you are killing yourself with pastries, candy, or soda? Few (relatively) donate to, demonstrate about, lobby for changes to laws, or do much about personal practices that could prevent some or many of these deaths.

Most people worry about money but don’t take the elementary steps of learning to make and live within a budget, balance their checkbook, eliminate unnecessary expenses, or even read a book about managing money. So if money is a concern, learning to manage it well should be an early measure to control the worry demon.

None of us can control whether a mass shooting, car accident, or other harmful event happens in our vicinity. What we can do is live life to the fullest, support public safety measures of many kinds, practice sensible control and care over areas of our lives (such as, street smarts, scam awareness, computer safety, and many more), and train ourselves to accept that, of course, our lives and those of everyone we love will end (hopefully after long and happy lives).

If you are going to worry, worry about something real that you can change, and act on that concern. Never worry about anything not under your control. Never worry about anything that only exists in your mind. Do what you can to prepare for or prevent various contingencies and let the rest go.

Proper Job or Message: The worry demon’s job is to alert us to danger, situations that need to change, or the need to take better care of ourselves or our things. It also is supposed to keep us alert and able to respond quickly to small cues that might signal danger. 
1. Danger worries mean we need to scan our environment for both short-term and long-term risks and institute a family or personal risk management plan to prevent or reduce risks we can control. For example, your risk management plan should include preparing for natural disasters likely in your area, preventive maintenance and security for important property, and comprehensive self-care to prevent life-style diseases (such as smoking, obesity, addiction, risk-taking behavior, stress), as well as study to manage risks not listed here.

2. Situational and relationship worries, often due to interactions with a significant person in our lives, such as a mate, friend, group, or boss mean that we need to study the interaction, understand both our and the other person’s motives and drivers (i.e., what compulsions, impulses, resentments, or other underlying psychological states push certain behaviors), identify what is within our power to change, and do it. {2}

3. Health worries mean that we need to identify what we can control (nutrition, diet, exercise, sleep, stress level, smoking, environment to some degree, managing interactions with health care providers) {1}, and what isn’t (onset of non-preventable diseases, risk factors and exposures we can’t control) and learn to let go of / accept anything outside our control

4. Financial worries usually mean that we need to pay more attentive to managing our money. The less money we have, the more we need to be on top of how and why every cent is used{3}. Worries about the cost of replacing important objects signal that we need to do as much preventive maintenance as we can.

Subdue: Below are some sample thoughts to use for each emotional tool to harness this demon. You can probably find better ones to suit your particular worries.

Counter: pokes holes in demon’s assertions, move, act, dance, sing

Dismiss: reject demon’s assertions or right to be talking to you  

Distract: put your mind on something constructive or positive

Laugh: laugh at the demon

Gratitude: identify all the things you are grateful for  

Transform: use the energy of the emotions to change them

You may not need to use every tool on this list each time worry occurs – one may be enough. On the other hand, long-standing worries may require every tool in your arsenal. Part of overcoming worry is re-training your brain to not allow itself to be pre-occupied with small, uncontrollable, non-beneficial concerns. This means that you need to expect your mind to comply with your directives and work as long and hard as it takes to make sure that it does and keep working for the change you need. {4}

Your demon should determine the likeliest hazards for your area, age, and health status, and develop a plan to counteract them to the greatest degree possible (I would be happy to help anyone identify the essential elements of a plan).

{1} The Patient’s Playbook; How to Save Your Life and the Lives of Those You Love by Leslie D. Michelson

{2} The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

{3} Look What Happened to My Pocket Change: Low- to Middle-Income Saving and Investing by Rochelle Melanie.

{4} Overcoming Worry


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© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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