Caring Less

People often tell me I have a calming presence. My most anxious family members and friends say that they enjoy speaking with me because I put things in perspective. I remind them that as complicated or stressful as things may seem, the world will continue to turn. Problems aren’t usually that big, after all, and in the grand scheme of things, what we worry about today won’t even be remembered 5 days from now, much less 5 years from now. 

Here’s the thing… I say all of that, but as much as I say it to help others, I say it to remind myself, too. Because I’ve been there. When I was 18 and freshly admitted to university, I remember sitting in a Psychology classroom and hearing the professor lecture about how people with higher stress levels die earlier from conditions like heart disease. My friend immediately turned to me and said, “watch out.” We had a good laugh, but her joke was only half funny because I was genuinely in my head ALL of the time, so her words were actually cautionary.

It was hard to turn off the worry. What helped me was my lived experience of seeing how that worry led to nowhere. For instance, I can recall a time in graduate school where I stayed after-hours at a clinic I was interning at to help acquire a support letter for a student in need. I jumped through hoops to get everything done despite being closed for the day because I worried that she would return in the morning and wouldn’t have it prepared for her on demand. My supervisor wanted me to leave – I had put in my hours and she was frustrated just watching me frantically move around. I’m sure my frenzied energy was contagious.

The next morning, I found out the student no-showed. She never came to get that support letter. I had stayed late, which caused me to catch a late train and miss most of my own night class…for nothing. Had I given up and prioritized myself, recognizing my work day was done and the student would just have to wait a bit when (or if) she came in the next day, I could’ve saved myself a lot of mental anguish. Yet, in my stress, stubbornness, and need to “save the day,” I accomplished nothing instead. 

Similar stories over the years had built up. So many times, I found myself unnecessarily worrying twice about something because I was imagining how horrible something would go, only to have it thankfully turn out fine in the end. There were times where I ruminated about past things – the things I couldn’t take back or change. Finally, there were times where I just added pressure to myself in the moment by acting like anything short of perfection wouldn’t be good enough and say something negative about me.

All of this is to say that while I appreciate the perception that I’m calm, and in many ways, I suppose that I am nowadays, I’m still human… Getting to this place was a process and I’m not always “zen.” I tell myself almost daily that something isn’t that big because, I too, need those reminders to surrender.

If you’re like me, here are a few things that help get me through when I need some self-talk (I’ve said some already):

  1. “What’s the worst case scenario?” Usually the worst thing isn’t that bad and if it does happen, you can ask yourself “then what?” Chances are you’ll deal with it.
  2. “The world will keep turning.” This is a twist on one of my favourite quotes that historians say was uttered by Galileo when he was forced to recant his assertion that the Earth moves around the sun. Despite appeasing the authorities at the time who accused him of blasphemy, he supposedly muttered “still in turns” under his breath, as a way of saying that the truth was the truth, whether he recanted or not. For me, that statement is a reminder that it doesn’t matter how much we stress, we’ll still move on tomorrow.
  3.  “You’ve got this” and “you’ll be okay” – Two simple statements that are affirmations of your own abilities to withstand hardship.
  4. “It ain’t that big” is a reminder that most problems in our day-to-day lives are not that monumental, especially if we have social privilege, which so many of us have.
  5.  “If it won’t matter 5 days from now, I won’t spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it.” You can change up the durations of time, but the principle here is that not all problems have a long-lasting impact, so there isn’t a need to stress in any disproportionate way.  Thinking back to my own experience, I can recall burning myself out 5 years ago – and for what? Do all the people I helped recall how I habitually bent over backwards for them? Would it matter if they did?

Find what works for you. We all have things that help us get along; I know your affirmation is waiting for you to find it.

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