Making Worry Work For You

A loved one was hospitalized due to a sudden illness recently. This relative is young and otherwise healthy and we still don’t know exactly why  she became so ill so quickly. It’s not easy to know that someone you care about is suffering and their symptoms are leading the doctors to suspect that they may have a life-threatening disease. (This family member is now home and almost fully recovered from her illness, for which I am unspeakably grateful.)

As we waited for more news, knowing that the act of waiting was all any of us could do, I thought about coping with the fear of the unknown. As odd as this may sound, I like to imagine the worst case scenario and then plan in great detail out how I would handle it.  Sometimes it is just my anxiety talking and I need to stop thinking so much, of course. But at other times I am able to beat back dark thoughts and fear over what may come with thorough planning.

You can’t plan your way to good health for a family member, of course; I will break my traditional Monday, Thursday, Saturday posting schedule tomorrow to talk about handling worry and anxiety when there’s nothing anyone can do to fix a situation.

In the meantime, I’ll pick different examples to explain my thought processes for the remainder of this post; let’s say that I decided to spend a week camping and hiking in the most remote corner of my province possible. Some of the things that could possible go wrong on this trip are:

  1. Inclement weather.
  2. An accidental injury.
  3. Getting lost and spending one or more nights outdoors before we’re able to be rescued.

Even though I know that none of the things are likely to occur I’d still begin making plans to deal with them should the worst happen.

Inclement Weather. In an unexpected severe thunderstorm,  we would probably needs stuff like: sturdy tents, extra food, a way to avoid being struck by lightening or knocked over by strong winds, and maybe something to keep us occupied while we stayed out of the rain. So I’d pick the sturdiest tent we could afford, research the best ways to create safe, strong shelters during bad weather and maybe add a pack of playing cards or a book of short stories to read aloud while we waited for the storm to abate. I’d also keep an eye on the forecast. If severe thunderstorms were forecast during our trip I’d stay home.

An Accidental Injury. If I knew about the trip with enough advance notice, I’d sign up for a first aid class at the local hospital or community centre a month or two before we left. At the very least I’d bring along a travel-size basic first aid kit and brush up on wound care and how best to stabilize someone who had burns, sprains or broken bones until they could access professional medical care.  I may also pack a whistle or other signalling device.

Getting Lost. I’d do several things to reduce the risk of this: packing a GPS or compass and paper map, planning out where we want to go (and what sort of terrain to expect) beforehand and, most importantly, sharing the plan with family members or close friends who lived nearby. If someone knows where we’re going and about what time to expect us back, any rescue team would at least have a good place to start if we don’t come home at the expected time.

Being Stuck Outside Longer Than Expected.If we ended up having to spend an extra night or more outdoors, what would we need? This is highly unlikely to occur  but my contingency plans would still include a basic plan for spending more time outdoors than was originally planned. I’d bring an extra sweater or lightweight blanket for chilly nights, water purification tablets and enough dehydrated food for an additional day or two. If anyone on the trip had prescription medication that needed to be taken regularly, I may suggest that they bring along a little extra as well.

Worrying about something that might happen – or even something that is happening – isn’t as easy to do when I’ve thought it through and done everything I can in advance to prepare for something bad happening. This won’t work in every situation, of course,  but I’ve found that putting a little thought into what I’d do in one potential emergency limbers up my brain in the event that something happens that I hadn’t previously anticipated. And, more likely that not, this hypothetical trip would begin and end without a hitch.

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