Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pause for a Reality Check

As caregivers--and in our other life roles--we sometimes create drama around how important our activities are. We load up on anxiety believing that if we don't accomplish something immediately or don't act right now, the whole world will fall apart. At least our little corner of it. I find myself falling into that stress-anxiety cycle, and I'm not a primary caregiver at the moment.

How do we control that anxious reaction to our situation?

I saw a recent report of research that discovered that people can control their irritated and angry reactions by asking one simple question: How important is this?

I've used this question to explore the source of my own nervousness and anxiety, but I frame it more specifically: On my personal Importance Scale of 1 to 10, 10 being imminent injury or death, how close to 10 is this situation?

We throw out the phrase "a matter of life and death" without really thinking. "A matter of life and death" is when a surgeon calls a librarian (me) and says that he is operating on a child, and he has encountered an unexpected complication in surgery. He expected and is familiar with two things he sees in the operative field, but the third is not usual. He'd like to know (right now, please) if this third condition has ever been reported in the literature. Any information would be helpful. This qualifies for a 9 or 10 on the Importance Scale.

Today's reality is that I have overbooked my schedule, want to visit a friend recovering from surgery, plan to exhibit at a local conference tomorrow and realize I may not have a car. Yes, this is all stressful, but certainly down near 1 to 3 on the Importance Scale. My anxiety often comes from pride. I like to be in control, like to be on top of things. I feel that I'm really good at time management. But life has a way of grinning and going its own way. Time for that reality check.

When your own anxiety meter starts to ratchet up (Yes, you know what it feels like. Either the tense stomach, aching shoulders, squeezing headache, or some other physical sign that is your personal symptom), your mini-vacation should be a pause to ask
"How Important Is This?"
and then use the Importance Scale to get some perspective.

Most of the time, you'll recognize that what you're trying to accomplish or solve is not so critical. A little time, a bit of adjustment on your part, a shift of your perspective will resolve the issue or show you a different way to approach it.

One small question. One small caregiver victory.

Try it. Let us know if it works for you.

Happy mini-vacation!

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