Responding to a Setback with Action versus Worry, Oh No

Written by Dr. Dan Johnston

Wishing and worrying is a siren call to disappointment. They'll actually slow you down in solving the problem.

We all have coping mechanisms for dealing with life's problems. Which mechanism we choose has everything to do with how quickly or slowly we'll bounce back from disappointment.

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Unfortunately, wishing and worrying - two of the most common ways to cope -guarantee a slow recovery.

You lose your job unexpectedly or your girlfriend breaks up with you. How do you react? Do you start wishing that it never happened or hope that the problem will go away? Do you daydream about how it will all work out for the best? Or do you wish someone would rescue you from the situation?

The problem with just wishing is that nothing gets done. You're too preoccupied wishing for something to happen to take action. You give up control when you take a wait-and-see attitude.

Wishers also are often in denial. You pretend that you don't have a problem when you do. While you're busy denying that you have one, your problem gets bigger and bigger.

Maybe you worry instead? You start thinking about how awful the situation is. How unfair it is. "I didn't need this right now," you tell yourself. Then you begin to imagine all the bad things that could happen. You worry yourself into a state of inaction by exaggerating the situation in your mind. Eventually, you collapse into despair.

While wishing and worrying will get you nowhere, working is the way out of a bad situation. The first step is to realistically assess what has happened. To do this you must resist your inner wishful voice of magical expectation that all will be well and your wallowing voice of despair and hopelessness.

Decide what needs to be done and do it. Start working. If your plan does not succeed, try another. Make modifications. Ask for help. Do anything as long as you keep working on the problem.

Working erases the fear of worry and lays the foundation for hope that is based on realistic expectation, and not wishful thinking. Working puts you in charge. You begin to feel more competent and in control. Soon you will have made progress, and from there your problem can be solved.

Dan Johnston, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and director of psychological services at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. He also serves on the faculty of the Mercer University School of Medicine. Johnston is the creator of the Awakenings Web site, offering lessons for living.

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