Long-Distance Worrying in the age of COVID-19

An extract from an original article by

Dr David Posen MD

We live our lives in three-time frames: the past, the present and the future. How we approach these three dimensions has a big affect on the amount of stress we experience. For example, looking forward to the future with pleasant anticipation can be motivating and exciting. But if it’s filled with worry and dread, it will be unpleasant.

In the current pandemic, with all its uncertainties, worry is a common, normal and understandable emotion. It can also be unhelpful and stressful. Fortunately, there are constructive ways to diminish its impact. I coined a phrase thirty years ago that I’ve used with patients ever since: 'Long-Distance Worrying'.

What is Long- Distance Worrying?

“Worrying about things long before they might happen. One of my patients called it “Borrowing trouble from the future.” - Dr David Posen MD

How can we deal with it?

Avoid speculation, get the facts. This is especially important during this pandemic with so much misinformation and speculation around.

Defer Don’t worry about things until you know you have something to worry about.

Deflect Push those thoughts out of your head, distraction or diversion help. Watch a funny video, go for a bike ride or call a friend.

Confront There are times when we shouldn't ignore or push worrying thoughts aside, when we must face reality. There is a constructive way to do that, here's how ...

The alternative to worry is not complacency or burying your head in the sand. There’s a middle ground that I call “concern.” Here’s how I distinguish the two:

Worry is an emotion Concern is intellectual

Worry is reactive Concern is proactive

Worry is passive Concern is action-oriented

Worry is problem oriented Concern is solution oriented

Worry is what I choke on Concern is what I chew on

There’s an exercise you can do called 'Creative Worrying'. Do it in writing by asking and answering four questions:

  • What’s the worst that can happen? What’s my greatest fear? Write that down.
  • How likely is it to happen? (that’s a guess but a bit of a reality check.)
  • If it did happen, what would I do to handle it? Specifically, if I did get sick or tested positive, what steps would I take to deal with it? Same with financial issues.
  • What can I do now to either prevent it or prepare for it? Currently, this is the most important question to answer. Physical distancing, self-isolating and meticulous hygiene top the list; planning how to get groceries and supplies; how to keep in touch with family and friends; making financial decisions and arrangements; how to work from home if possible; what to do if you own a business; updating documents such as wills and powers of attorney.

Once you’ve done the exercise, you now have a road-map for how to proceed. Further worry is neither helpful nor necessary. Just start acting on the items on your list. We will always worry at times like this. It’s a natural reaction, but these strategies can help you lessen the worry and feel more control during these uniquely uncertain times.