By Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC 

Welcome to Q&A Today, a column designed to answer your questions regarding challenges and concerns in everyday life, from family to coping with current events. A popular topic today revolves around the coronavirus. All questions are fair game. Just send me an email with your questions or concerns, and watch for the answer in upcoming editions of the Tasmanian Times. Q&A Today is published on the first and third Sundays of the month. If your question is printed, only your first name will appear in this column. Email me at: tas@LensonLifeCoaching.com.

Q: My older brother attends uni and is planning to study abroad in the autumn. We are of mixed race, being Aboriginal and white, and I’m really scared for him. I keep imaging him getting swept up in a Black Lives Matter demonstration, or catching the coronavirus. It doesn’t seem safe for him to be travelling out of Tasmania at this time. I keep clipping articles out of the newspaper to show my parents what it’s like out there, but no one seems to be listening to me. They say I always overreact, and I think they may be right. What do you think? Maybe it’s more about me than my brother? Ella

A: It is clear that you love your brother, Ella, and want him to be safe. It is very normal to be worried about his welfare in a world that has been shaken this past year with nonstop problems ranging from bushfires to a pandemic to racial equality demonstrations.

We all respond to worry differently. Problems arise when this worry becomes all consuming and you find yourself ruminating about it.

You mentioned that your family said you ‘always overreact’. Let’s reflect on that comment. Do you find that worrisome thoughts tend to occupy too much space in your head? Do these thoughts create more anxiety, taking over your thoughts and actions, and eventually wearing down your mental resilience? No one wants to experience these feelings, but sometimes we simply get stuck in a particular coping style.

Focusing on things that you can’t control, such as your brother leaving Tasmania for his schooling, is frustrating you and creating anxiety. You can break from past unhelpful ways of responding to anxiety provoking issues and use this time as an opportunity to press the reset button.

I suggest you select a series of steps that will help you focus on what is within your control. An overdose of the news can fuel your anxieties. Aim to reduce the intensity of stimulation you are receiving on these matters by setting limits to how much news you watch about COVID-19 and demonstrations. While being informed can help you make good choices in life, it is possible to get overwhelmed by non-stop, often sensationalising news.

I can’t tell you to not worry. But too much worrying is more likely to keep you stuck in a destructive cycle of inner turmoil than provide any productive benefits, and may impair your ability to enjoy your brother and others.

So go ahead and worry, but with these following guidelines. Establish a place and time for worrying by setting aside two 30-minute periods each day. Use these worry sessions as a time to think about and write down everything that is making you anxious.

If worrisome thoughts occur outside of these pre-designated worry times, simply remind yourself that you’ll be able to add that concern to the next worry session, and then try to reconnect with what you were doing prior to the arrival of this intrusive thought.

It’ll take effort.

But in time, as this new habit gets stronger and stronger, you will find yourself building up the mental muscle to control your intrusive worries. You’ll find yourself focusing on what you can control in your life instead of dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ that may never materialise.

Going down this path of personal change is never easy. Being able to process your feelings will help prevent you from sliding back into old and familiar ways. Those who know and care about you will help you feel good about yourself as you make these changes, so keep communication open with your support system, of which your family is part.

Hopefully, being able to remove the burden of excessive worrying about your brothers’ upcoming educational travels will enable you to better enjoy your family relationships rather than being hobbled by the trap of endless worry. As an added bonus, you’ll likely find that the resilience you create in this particular stressful situation will cross over into being able to cope well with future problems you encounter in your life.

Wishing you well,

Eileen

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