Question... Do you consider yourself a "worrier"?
I definitely am. In fact, I consider myself a professional worrier.
At baseline I can be a little uptight and high-strung. As if that weren't enough, I chose a career field that requires me to be worried for a living.
A PLACE FOR WORRY
Since graduating from physician assistant school nearly 10 years ago, I've always worked in the hospital or ER. There, my job involves thinking about worst case scenarios. For example, when a patient presents with...
- Chest discomfort - I'm worried about a heart attack or blood clot in the lungs or aortic dissection.
- Headache - I'm thinking brain bleed, meningitis, or tumor.
- Abdominal pain - I'm concerned about things like bowel obstruction/perforation or a ruptured aneurysm.
Most of the time the patients' symptoms are not due to these things, but it's my job to rule them out.
So there's a place for that kind of "worry." (Perhaps "concern" is the better term, but in this post I'll stick with "worry.")
It's used to solve a problem. In my job, thinking about worst case scenarios (life-threatening emergencies) helps me to recognize true emergencies, which leads to appropriate care.
WHEN WORRY DOESN'T HELP
However, there are times when worrying is not useful at all. Worrying isn't helpful when I have no control over the outcome.
Situations like this past week, when my 8 year-old underwent surgery for fractured and displaced nasal bones after a softball hit her. (She's fine, by the way. The surgery went well, and she's recovering nicely.)
As the nurses wheeled my baby girl away to the operating room (for a very basic procedure, I should add), I felt like an emotional wreck.
I couldn't hold back the tears, and I was trying so hard to NOT think about all the things that can go wrong in an operating room. They're not common, but they're possible (in creeps those "worst case scenario" thoughts that I'm so used to considering).
What good does that do? I had zero control over the events that would take place in that operating room.
In situations like this, when we have no control, what's likely to be more helpful?
- Worry and anxiety?
- Or a prayer? (If the word "prayer" doesn't speak to you, how about positive thoughts, good vibes, well-wishes, or asking the universe for things to run smoothly? Not that these are the same things, but they are hopeful and faithful approaches.)
My belief is that the second is more helpful. But I had to remind myself of this repeatedly last week.
I love the following quote. If you tend to be a worrier, perhaps it will resonate with you too.
"Worrying does not take away tomorrow's troubles. It takes away today's peace." -Randy Armstrong
One final note... There's a difference between worry (a normal human emotion) and debilitating anxiety. (I think this Psychology Today article does a good job of explaining differences.) If you suffer from anxiety, please seek health from a mental health professional. Treatment can significantly improve quality of life.
This post was originally published on June 16, 2018.