More Than Caregiving

The new truth about life with aging parents

Banish the Worry Monster: A Counterintuitive Approach to Anxiety

Shining a flashlight on the monsters under the bed.

Perhaps you are aware of trying to find a balance between the reality of disease or a particular situation and the anxious thoughts, fears and worries that can fuel feelings of resentment, inadequacy and being overwhelmed. Or maybe what is being sought is something else--an inner knowing of the difference between power and control.  

Some people are ashamed of their worry. Some appear proud of it. Others feel consumed or controlled by it. For some, it has an addictive quality.

We are human and fear is natural at times. But to live in a constant state of it is not natural. As a parent, when a child is fearful, we can ask them to explain what they are afraid of. As adults, we often do not take the time to do the same. We think that we know, that we are certain what we are scared of is the obvious thing--whatever that may be. Examples: A parent is physically ill and may become worse; a parent is financially ill and may become dependent; a parent is mentally ill and may do something dangerous. (These are general categories of concern with nondescript outcomes.)

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In many cases, adult children will not have control over many of the outcomes of such issues, but that doesn't mean we don't have personal power in the situation. Personal power in part, stems from knowing what you are fearful of, of asking oneself what good the fear or anxiety is serving. 

Typically, fear and anxiety serve fear and anxeity. In other words, propel and feed it.

There is a technique I have heard of that is referred to as that of "shining a flashlight on the monsters under the bed." Maybe you've heard of it. As with a child when we ask what they are scared of, we want to do the same thing for ourselves. We want to do it with the lack of judgment we'd give a child, too.

This is something many parents do naturally with their kids, and should feel free to apply it to themselves. By shining the (flash)light, we can take steps to move into our own power, clear thinking and peace of mind (in a way, all three things are one and the same), and away from anxiety, rumination and inner terror. By staying in the dark, the mind continues to tell scary stories, (which is what it's really good at).

Stay "where your feet are." This is so much easier that trying to "think positive." I've found positive thinking to be a chore, one that creates stress. While there is nothing bad about being positive and upbeat, but peace and clear mindedness (which can be a great help when a parent is mentally, physically or financially ill) can help you determine what your own limits are, and how to move forward, get more help and so on. But the power comes in focusing on the next indicated step.  

Perhaps it feels counterintuitive. The impulse is to focus on what's going on "outside" and to fix the situation. To help first and foremost. Yet, practicing ways to connect with your deepest, truest self, the part of you that is unshakable, unstoppable, real, can help. Meditation is wonderful because, again, it is geared to help us gain control (for lack of a better word) over the mind, and its worries and doom/gloom that typically is progressive (meaning that it gets worse). 

Eckhart Tolle, the spiritual teacher, explains clearly and succinctly in The Power of Now and A New Earth, that peace and serenity is found in the present moment. So if anxiety returns the antidote is to gently gently invite back the present moment. The key is to do it gently - as you would take the hand of child. 

Meredith Resnick, L.C.S.W., is a health writer and licensed social worker. She is also the mother of two adopted daughters.

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