What Does Worry Accomplish?

What does worry accomplish? Think of all the things we worry about. Some things are common to everyone, while others, not so much.

For me, one of my biggest worrying times happens right before I head to the airport (which right now isn’t happening much).

Butterflies in my stomach.

Little waves of nausea.

Tight chest.

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

What am I so worried about? Unlike many, it’s not the actual flying.

What I worry about is… missing the plane. It feels silly to say so. I have an irrational need to leave home at least two to three hours ahead, to get to the gate at least an hour before the flight, and, when I get there, to sit where I can see the gate agent and the boarding door. Once I can see the gate and the agent, the worry melts away. I feel normal again.

The Costs of Worry

My worry is costly: three hours where I’m unable to focus on much else (even driving), not to mention life-shortening stress, all for a highly unlikely event.

It seems I am not the only one to worry about expected, routine future events, like the plane leaving on time with or without me. It’s expected that teenage children will soon start driving, and that 90-year-old parents should soon stop. It’s expected that stockmarkets, interest rates, and gas prices will rise and fall and then do it again. And yet, many of us still worry. What good does it do? What toll does it take?

Scarier, and driving yet more worry, are unexpected, random events, like pandemics. Sudden market meltdowns, tsunamis, cancer, dementia, layoffs, election surprises, terrorists, hackers…have I got your heart rate up? Butterflies? Tight chest?

Further, much worry is brought about by advertising-hungry news sources, across the political spectrum.

Remember to breathe when you watch the news. And the ads, too.

Worry Antidotes

I don’t think too many airline employees worry about missing their planes. Similarly, most doctors and nurses seem to know what they can do about covid-19 (provided they have the equipment), and what they can’t. Finally, most financial advisors know what they can do to identify and hedge risks, and what they can’t.

In other words, having a specialized understanding makes it easier to distinguish what’s controllable, and to accept what’s not. Airlines have checklists, but know there will still be accidents. Hospitals have protocols, but know there will still be unforeseen complications. Financial professionals make client-specific plans, but know there will still be client-specific random events.

What can be done about accidents, unforeseen complications, and random events? Financially, that’s an easy answer – buy insurance. For some people, having the insurance will prevent the worry. For others, though, it’s not the financial toll they worry about. It’s the emotional one; a far greater pain that is not insurable. Worry can feel like insurance against the pain.

Turning The Worry Around

Remembering and accepting what we cannot control…wasn’t there a prayer about that? Something about accepting the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference?

What can be done about self-induced, or media-induced, angst? Paying attention to physical sensations like butterflies is a good start. When the sensation begins, pause and ask:
a) Where is it coming from? When did the feeling start?
b) Can I do anything about it?
c) Who or what could be the source?
d) Does that source have an economic incentive to create some drama/worry?

Then give yourself an “A” for “Awareness.” Remember to breathe again. Bring your mind to the present, where you are safe in that moment, and out of the future.

For Further Help

If your worry about financial matters, family matters, or irrational flying matters seems chronic, consider what kind of costs – money, time, or energy – you are spending on it. It might be worthwhile to talk with a mental health professional about antidotes.

Even if it’s “only” about money, do whatever you need to do to find the serenity to accept what you cannot change, the courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

And when you get to that worry-free, serenity place, let me know. When I start flying again, I might need a ride to the airport.

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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