How To Make Worry Melt

How to make worry melt: As an expert worrier, I often wonder why I worry, even when I know the answer: Worry gives me a (false) sense that I will be prepared and in control. It’s my fallback when I feel out of my league.

Take this example. One of my biggest worrying times happens before I head to the airport. What am I so worried about? Unlike many, it’s not the actual flight. It’s about missing the plane. It feels silly to even write this.

And yet,

Butterflies in my stomach.

Little waves of nausea.

Tight chest.

It happens nearly every time.

And I have coping mechanisms: I tell myself things like, “Breathe.“ “Calm down.” “It’s going to be ok.” I even have a special spirit animal – a deer – that I think about to help me feel better.

Additionally, as a result of this predictable worry, I have an irrational need to leave home at least two hours ahead, get to the gate an hour before the flight, and, when I get there, to sit where I can see the gate agent and the boarding door.

Then there is this acute physical transformation. Once I can see the gate and hear the agent, my entire nervous system relaxes. It feels like the worry just melts.

Expected and Unexpected Worries

How silly this feels. And yet, it seems I am not the only one to worry about expected and routine things like a departing plane. It’s expected and routine, yet a source of great worry, that teenage children will start driving, and that 90-year-old parents should probably stop. In working with money, it’s a source of great worry, yet expected and routine, that stockmarkets, interest rates, and gas prices will rise and fall repeatedly.

Upcoming retirement is expected and routine, yet a source of great worry (and excitement). Understandably, it’s a big step into an unknown future. That can especially bring on the jitters.

Adding to everyday events are unexpected random ones, like pandemics. Further, sudden market meltdowns, tsunamis, cancer, dementia, layoffs, election surprises, terrorists, and hacker attacks are all things we know aren’t probable, but are possible.

Just checking in – how’s your heart rate now? Butterflies? Tight chest?

Although we might prepare as best we can, worry on top of preparation helps some feel as though we are doing something about the problem. But what toll does worry take? Does it help us to prepare that much better? As a result of worry, I’m quite sure I have shortened telomeres and life expectancy. That’s a pretty high cost.

How To Melt the Worry Away

When I get to the gate and see the agent, I feel the worry melt away.

But it’s strange – I don’t think too many airline employees worry about the same thing I worry about. There’s something about having exposure every day to systems and knowledge that produces confidence. Aviation is now one of the safest modes of travel in the world. While airplanes are subject to all kinds of random threats, there are protections in place against as many as possible. Some are fairly simple, such as passengers wearing seatbelts. Others are fairly complex, like running through a 57-item cockpit checklist before every takeoff and landing. That’s what professionals of many stripes get paid to do – develop and run proven processes, and then amend them as lessons arise.

In other words, having a specialized understanding and process makes it easier to

  • distinguish what’s actually controllable,
  • accept what’s not, and
  • feel confident the process will handle 90% – 95% of unexpected random events.

Airlines have meticulous training and checklists, but accept there will be equipment failures, unruly passengers, weather delays, technological shutdowns, and other events we haven’t yet seen.

Melting Money Worry

Similarly, what most people worry about with money isn’t what most financial professionals worry about for them.

Most financial professionals know what can be done to reduce risks, and what can’t. While we might make client-specific plans, we also know there will be unexpected random events. We put plans in place to prepare for both as best we can. For some people, having that kind of professional help and confidence helps money worry melt away.

For me, worry melts upon seeing that I’m part of the boarding process. For others, it’s being part of a financial planning process.

Either way, the exhalation of a deep sigh, unwrinkling eyebrows, and shoulders unhooking from our earlobes send the signal the professional and the process have provided what we come for after all – the feeling it will be ok and we will get where we want to go.

When have you felt worry melt away? Who were you with? What seemed to be the key for you?

Leave a comment for readers below.

For more psychology of money, tax, and funny video tips, subscribe to the award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn. Or check out Chapter 6 of the book, The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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