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This is a blog for the curious. I'm happy you stopped by. 

Awfulizing, catastrophizing, and worry

One of my very worst qualities is my habit of taking a situation that is only slightly less than ideal and spinning it into a total catastrophe in my mind.

What if our plane crashes and no one will adopt the dog and he ends up starving on the street? What if this fun temporary tattoo won’t wash off and I have to lead this presentation with a face tattoo? What if I didn’t explain the process clearly enough and someone skips a step and I get fired?

My thoughts run wild before I even know it's happening. Of course this isn’t ideal for me, but it’s even worse for those around me. It’s exhausting to be around someone who is worried all the time. Especially if what they’re worried about comes out of left field and is so unlikely it’s not exactly worth a contingency plan. 

I need to state clearly here that anxiety should be treated. It’s a serious disease that can have very real consequences on every day life. But sometimes I don’t see my worries an anxieties. They feel separate, and so I choose to tackle them in a slightly different matter. There's lots to worry about in the world, but sitting and worrying won't actually fix anything. And it often prevents any action that could help a situation from happening. 

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.

— Corrie ten Boom

I’ve adopted the pesky societal habit of thinking that if I worry enough about something, I can somehow control the outcome. If I worry enough about that presentation, it’ll go well. If I don’t fret, it’ll be a disaster. 

This simply isn’t true. Worry won’t breed success. Being prepared can help, but worrying can’t. I think Emily P. Freeman sums it up nicely in Episode 39 of her podcast The Next Right Thing

So I can worry, or I can work.
— Emily P. Freeman

I can work hard, I can be smart about preparing, I can equip myself with the right tools. But I cannot worry my way to success. I can’t awfulize my way to achievement. 

I sometimes wonder if my active imagination, a quality I like about myself, has a shadow side. If my imagination weren’t so detailed and vivid, would I worry less? Should I try to squash my imagination to see if it helps control my catastrophizing ways? 

The thought of doing so made me feel sad. If I want to stop worrying, do I have to shut off a whole part of what makes me me? But then Kendra shared something on Episode 62 of the hilarious and practical Lazy Genius Podcast that brought this fear into the light:

Worry is a distorted imagination.
— John Freeman

Imagination is exciting, inspiring, and usually productive. Worry is taking this gift and distorting it. Taking something great and making it ugly. Like using magic for evil instead of good. 

And so I write my worries down, and then let them go. I'll ask someone I trust if they think there's something I could do to prepare a little more or plan ahead, and if they honestly think I'm overreacting, I believe them. I try to realize when worrying is productive, and when it isn't.

I'm not a very religious person, but I recently remembered something my grandfather's brother used to say: Worrying is a negative form of prayer. It's a comforting thought. It reminds me to turn insignificant worries into prayer, and prayer often turns into gratitude. 

I'm thankful for my work. For my active imagination that keeps me entertained. And for the many little moments that seem magical in every day life. I'm trying hard to put worries aside, and instead to do something to get a step closer to making things better. If you're a worrier too, will you join me in this experiment? Maybe we can make others a little bit happier, and be happier ourselves, too. 

Making Soup