Earlier this week, my anxiety seemed to be through the roof.
I couldn’t really figure out why, and I didn’t spend much time trying. Sometimes my anxiety is connected to an event or occurrence or deadline that’s stressing me out, but sometimes it’s like weather patterns, moving in and out with a mind of their own.
When my anxiety is heightened, literally anything can become something to worry about. If I have nothing to worry about, my anxiety will create a reason.
I actually did have a lot on my mind at the start of the week. I’d spent the whole weekend working and didn’t feel especially caught up.
The kidney symposium that I mentioned some months back had resulted in an invitation for me to present to a group of nephrologists and nephrology fellows in their grand rounds lecture; this was on Monday.
I felt honored, but I was also nervous about it. In the time I’d spent putting finishing touches on my slides, I hadn’t gotten around to a lot of recipe testing that has been sitting on my to-do list (and for which ingredients have been sitting in my fridge).
My sleep had been spotty, which made the melancholy that’s been coming and going feel worse.
So, my cumulonimbus of anxiety had plenty of good material to work with.
Even after the grand rounds presentation was behind me (I’ll recap that soon), I found myself still fixating and fretting about small things. Lots and lots of small things.
By Wednesday, I finally had the good sense to open up to a friend about it. Mentioning one of the things that was preoccupying me, I said to her, “tell me not to worry about it?”
My friend laughed. “You don’t need to worry about any of it,” she said. “Make a list of all the things that are making you worry, then start crossing them off, one by one.”
In the past, this would have sounded very blithe to me—an “easier said than done” piece of advice.
Plus, I’d have been bothered by how non-specific and seemingly unjustified it was.
How did she know that I didn’t have to worry about my worries? What would my reason be for disqualifying a worry? Was I supposed to just cross worries off of this theoretical list for the sake of crossing them off?
Anyway, crossing a worry off the list wouldn’t make it go away. I knew that, and I had to imagine that my friend knew it, too.
The thing is, my friends are usually wiser than me. This is particularly true of the friend I was talking to.
As I reflected on her advice, I saw her point: nothing is really something to worry about. It may be something that has to be dealt with, but worrying won’t help.
Just a few months ago, I wrote a weekend reading post about worry. At the time, I was full of sensible things to say about how futile it is.
But of course I’m just a person, and like most people, I routinely lose sight of my own (brief) flashes of sagacity.
Everything I wrote in January is true, though. Worry never solves anything.
If there’s really a problem at hand—and it’s important for me to note that many of the things that I think are, or will become, problems actually are not and do not—then worrying isn’t likely to help with calm, clearheaded problem-solving.
Worrying won’t prevent painful outcomes, either. Those happen sometimes in life. But worrying about them before they happen doesn’t soften their impact.
If anything, arriving at a hardship when one is already tense and braced for anguish makes it a lot worse.
Later that day, I did exactly what my friend advised me to do. I made a list of the main stressors.
As I crossed them off the list, I realized that 70% of them were meaningless—tiny, unimportant matters that my anxiety was spotlighting so that it would have something to sink its teeth into.
About 30% was real stuff, life stuff. But I crossed it off, too.
I made a mental note of the few things that could actually be helped with planning or problem-solving, rather than worry. And I’ve been trying to be proactive with those processes in the days since.
The remaining things are stressful, but I can’t fix or solve them. I resolved not to worry about them in the spirit of not suffering twice: once in worrying, once in perceiving the real pain that accompanies life’s hardships.
Will I worry some more this week? Probably. But at least now I have one new tool in my coping toolbox.
Wishing you a week with as little worry as possible—or at least, a pen and notepad to tackle it with.
Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.
Love a hand pie! These vegan spinach and artichoke hand pies from the King Arthur site look fantastic.
It’s pea season, and I’ve got my eye on Aimee’s delightful baked green pea fritters.
I recently found myself wondering about, and Googling, a recipe for vegan carbonara. Alison’s scrumptious vegan carbonara came to the rescue.
I love Claire’s idea for a lentil-based vegan tortilla soup.
Have you ever watched old episodes of GBBO and asked yourself what, exactly, is a bakewell tart? I definitely have, and now I have Kat’s vegan recipe to guide me.
1. George Stiffman explores tofu and tofu-making traditions in China.
3. When I was doing my long-term care rotation for clinical training, I was shocked to learn how prevalent malnutrition is among older Americans.
This week, I was troubled and saddened to read that deaths attributed to malnutrition have more than doubled between 2018 to 2022, mostly among folks who are 85 and older.
The isolation and circumstances of Covid had a lot to do with this, but the trend hasn’t stopped. I hope that providers in this country can continue to find ways to strategize around it.
And the article presents us all with a reminder to check in on the older folks in our lives.
4. Author Jasmin Attia meditates on food—taste, touch, smell—and on the familial culinary traditions that connect her to what she calls “the Egyptian childhood I never had.”
5. NPR asked readers to share what keeps them optimistic in gloomy times. This sampling of responses offers perspectives that are wonderfully diverse, and wonderfully wonderful.
A respondent named Susan, who lives in California, stated that she asks herself two simple questions: first, what are you enjoying right now? And second, what are you looking forward to?
I’m enjoying—OK, just enjoyed a little while ago, as a snack while writing this post—one of my double chocolate muffins.
I’m looking forward to watching some of the final season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with my mom, whom I haven’t seen since Greek Easter, tonight.
I like these questions. I like my answers.
I hope you have a sweet evening.
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