Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What, Me Worry?

The past nine months have been challenging. I’m sure plenty of you reading these words can relate to the current tough times, particularly those of you who are with me in the not-so-great world of unemployment. While folks that are working their hardest every day have concerns, those of us still searching for employment have to make some pretty difficult decisions. Every choice we make affects the bottom line – and that bottom line is razor-thin.

Since losing my job nine months ago, I’ve become more frugal. I rent movies from the library instead of going to a video store or getting a Netflix account. I rarely go out to dinner and try to save on gas and food where I can. Although I’ve made a little extra money doing freelance stories here and there, it’s not going to buy me apartment space in Trump Tower anytime soon. (Unless freelance journalism pay increases about a thousand times. Given the state of the industry, I’m not holding my breath.) For those unemployed or underemployed, there is no discretionary income. If you lived with tight purse strings before, it’s even tighter when every dollar counts that much more. One major expense, like a car repair or a major medical bill, can set you back and have you stressed out for days.

That’s why I’m writing today. Not about money, but about the stress, the worry and the anxiety that comes with difficult financial and emotional times. It can get to just about anyone. It can damn near paralyze you if you let it. It had done so to me in the past. There were times where I froze on making big decisions because I worried so much. Could I afford this? Would I regret that? What if disaster strikes? You can run yourself ragged stressing about nightmare scenarios of what will happen to you if the roof caves in. This is one case where it hurts to have such a vivid imagination.

Over the last few months, I have done some learning. Worry was one topic I took particular interest in since worry wore me and several friends out in years past. Even when I was working, it seemed there was always something to worry about.

I knew I could not stop worrying altogether. (Who can?) But I wanted to find a way to not have it be so consuming that it became a detriment to making progress in anything or just plain living. I borrowed several books to study up on worry. One is Dale Carnegie’s How To Stop Worrying and Start Living. Although first published in 1948, it holds plenty of worthwhile advice for people in today’s world worrying themselves to death. My favorite is the theory of living in day-tight compartments. You can’t change yesterday because it’s already gone and you can’t worry about tomorrow because it’s not here yet. Carnegie’s advice: do all you can for the day until bedtime.
Another tip asks readers to write out their problems instead of making rash decisions. The idea is to write out what the problem is, what’s causing it, what possible solutions there are, and then determining the best solution to that problem.

Carnegie's book also tells you to keep busy to keep worry off your mind. He couldn’t be more right. The moment I immerse myself in a project, be it cleaning out my car, neatening up my place, going to the gym or writing, I tend to not to stress so much about a particular problem. The book doesn’t tell you not to think or plan for what’s coming. It’s telling you not to let your worries get the best of you or have them in your mind more than good thoughts.
In fact, I wrote this in part because I couldn’t sleep. I found myself lying awake, worried about several things that I couldn’t take care of until sunrise and figured flexing the fingers on the keyboard might do me some good. It did. Guessing I might turn in early today once sleep finally decides to come to me.

The most important thing I may have learned from Carnegie’s book is putting a "stop-loss" order on your worries. Meaning that you should put a limit on how much you’re going to worry about something and stop there. Some things can’t be changed and you can only worry so long about them. You have to move on.

My working at not worrying also led me to become better at planning for the day ahead. In my younger days, I would just get to the office and work on whatever was in front of me or whatever an editor asked of me. I was far from organized. I’m still not an ace at it, but I’m better than I used to be at prioritizing what needs to be done and by when. It really does benefit you to write out your goals for the day or week ahead. Checking off all the things you got done is a pretty good feeling. And who couldn’t use a little positive feeling in these iffy times, right? (Note: I’m still working on writing in a day planner.)

I just wanted to share this. I’m not going to claim to be some sage or expert on worry. I still face challenges and I’m going to continue to face them even after I’m gainfully employed again, so worry won’t go too far. But the key thing is you can’t let it stop you from moving forward.
I can’t worry too much right now. I have things to do and a life to live.