Worried well? I suppose I can confess to sometimes feeling worried or unsettled yet I consider myself quite well.
So what do some of us worry about and why should it matter? Studies have shown that many people experience distress, worrying that they should be, among other things, richer, fitter, thinner, more creative, more intellectual or simply happier. Interestingly studies into ‘happiness’ have shown that even rich, fit, thin, creative, clever people confess to pervasive feelings of worry, unease, concern and vague anxiety as if things aren’t quite right or something’s missing – you could call it ‘non-specific unhappiness’.
Despite lots of research into happiness over the past few decades, happiness has proved difficult to define. The American researcher George Vaillent started a long study with a group of male students at Harvard Medical School in 1940, trying to review levels of happiness as they travelled through their lives. He has recently concluded that the word happiness is itself a misleading word as it smacks of ‘getting lucky’ or just hedonistic self gratification. In a recent interview on Radio 4 he identified that a number of men in his study described feeling a sense of fulfilment in their lives (not described as happiness) and what is most fascinating is, that these men simply lived longer.
The word happy doesn’t really describe how it feels ‘not to be worried’ or the lack of non-specific unhappiness that persistently bothers so many people. George Vaillent’s study revealed that the men who expressed a sense of life fulfilment also had strong connections with family and friends, particularly young children and pets, displayed emotional intelligence and relationship skills, plus a resilience to deal with life’s issues. Not surprisingly George Vaillent also emphasized that being part of a loving supportive family seems to give people a critical advantage in health and well-being at all stages of their life.
So what practical points can I take from this study in my attempt to understand the worried well? The indication is that attaining fulfilment in life may actually enhance my longevity and certainly will enhance my quality of life!
So how to be fulfilled? I think the first place to start is taking the need for life fulfilment seriously – not as a selfish quest but from the point of view that if I am less pre-occupied with ‘non-specific unhappiness’ I’ll have more to offer in my relationships and wider community. For me fulfilment could consist of a better balance of things, such as time to myself balanced with time with others, earning money through traditional routes balanced with purely creative activities, looking after myself with enough sleep, regular exercise and good food, less TV and more cloud watching.
Tying down the specifics of a personal plan for greater fulfilment is something that anyone can do within a coaching conversation – try one – it could be great fun and even make you live longer.
Janet McClean DipCOT
Some Thinking Can Seriously Harm Your Health: A Self Coaching Strategy
‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our mind.’ Bob Marley
I have recently watched the sumptuous (if slightly too long) “Life of Pi”. The vibrancy of the colours and images were wonderful and the tiger was such a compelling animal that I felt I had him walking around the house with me for days after watching the film. If you don’t know the story please look away now as this maybe a ‘spoiler’. The story invites you to consider that we can choose how we think about things. In fact the story gently insists that we choose. The consequences of choices Pi made in his thinking would seem to have saved his life and enabled him to live a sane and fulfilled life in the future.
Some of us have more of a pull towards negative thinking than others. I didn’t know Winnie the Pooh as a child but I now know he has a friend called Eeyore whose cup is always half empty (probably of cold tea!). Eeyore thinks he has such a hard time of it. Simply put negative thinking can become an unhelpful even harmful habit.
Now I’m not suggesting we become like Pooh’s other friend Tigger and bounce around enthusiastically thinking that everything is wonderful. But I am suggesting that we have a choice in what we engage with in our mind, as, like ripples in a pond, what we think will affect how we feel and what we do or don’t do.
Developing an awareness of our thinking habit takes some effort but it’s not complicated!
Whenever you can, just inwardly notice the thoughts that pop into your mind – do your thoughts stress you or energise you, do they frighten you or calm you, close you down or optimize you?
Here’s where the choice comes in. I’ve heard it helpfully described like this – thoughts are like trains coming into the station of your mind – you choose if you want to get on the train, or if you simply watch it pass through the station and disappear back into the tunnel from whence it came? Cool ‘eh!
Now don’t get me wrong if you have a thought like ‘I must pick the kids up from school’ or ‘I need to check my bank statement’ you need to act on these thoughts no matter how stressful they feel! But when you’ve dealt with the tasks of daily life and you find a moment to relax you have the right to choose not to give head space to any habitual negative thought that randomly gets pulled off the database by your busy mind. Wave that train goodbye, again and again, and as many times as it takes to grow and sustain a new mental habit.
You can choose. Watch the thoughts and choose. The more you do it the more accomplished you will become at it and you will notice negative thinking will reduce. This in turn will reduce the associated negative emotions you experience and how they affect your behaviour.
Try it and let me know. Janet McClean DipCOT
Ref:The Big Peace by Susy Greaves & A User’s Guide to the Brain by John Ratey