How do we manage the worries and anxieties of today? The 2020 pandemic/economic crisis is challenging us in ways this generation has never seen before.
In an important and largely forgotten book, Dale Carnegie wrote in 1948, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” he gave an important list of practical ways to manage worry and anxiety. He had earlier written his flagship book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” in 1936.
I read these books as a young adult, and they have served me over a lifetime.
I’d like to do a quick review of the book, updated with some of my own 21st Century observations.
Tough Times Problem Solving–Freedom from Worry
Dale Carnegie, the how-to-get-along-guru of the 20th Century, is often thought of as a bit too sweet and accommodating for today’s Twitter world of verbally attack first and inflict maximum damage.
Yet Carnegie actually began his career in a tough world in the depth of the Great Depression where 25% of people were unemployed. America had lost a huge segment of its youth in WWI and WWII was just looming ahead. There was social upheaval and labor unrest.
Challenges of 2020–Overcoming Worries and Anxieties
Just why are we worried? Well, for plenty of reasons, actually. Here’s the short list:
How do we deal with Covid-19 with infection rates rising, not falling?
What happens to our relationships, family and friends, when contact is limited?
How do we navigate a world where the economy has shrunk by a third and more than a million file for unemployment every month?
How will my short-term and long-term employment be impacted?
What does education look like for my children and grandchildren?
How do I take care of the people I care about who don’t live with me?
How will my community of faith, personal faith, my house of faith be impacted?
How is my freedom being impacted? How will democracy be impacted?
If you were making this list, it might be different and longer.
Steps to Stop Worrying and Start to Live
- Begin with recognizing what you fundamentally like about your life. Carol and I have learned not to take anything for granted that we have been given in any moment of our lives.
One of the worst things that people do is to assume that what we have is a “normal expectation” that is just there. It’s not. I wake up and open my eyes and begin to experience a beautiful home with temperature controlled for summer or winter. I hear the sound of birds outside and see the light of the morning. These conditions are not normal–they are a huge blessing.
I am tremendously amazed and grateful for my mind. It always amazes me that people feel superior for their IQs and ability to out-think people around them. It’s true I like competition, but I realize that I don’t have one brain cell that I decided to give myself. They were all given to me, and I’m grateful for that.
- Figure the odds of what might happen–they’re probably in your favor. Our fears loom large each day and take over our thought processes. We worry constantly. One thing that Carnegie teaches us, however, is to figure our odds.
Where I live in Travis County Texas, USA, a hot spot for Corona Virus, my odds of dying of the virus are .000021%. My chances of becoming infected are higher, .015%. The actual odds against my contracting the virus or dying of it are miniscule.
Does that mean I should be careless about Covid? Do I worry about getting Corona Virus?
I do worry–and each time I leave the house I wear a mask, as I am asked. I social distance, and now my association with my family is virtual on Zoom. I take every precaution because I know people who have been sick for weeks from having the virus. The ICU beds are full and we are asked to take the recommended precautions, not just to keep from becoming infected, but to not infect others.
I do not take risks and I counsel our children to take caution, but there is no reason to spend a lot of time worrying about getting the virus. My actual odds of becoming infected by corona virus are low, my chances of recovering if I get it are high.
Figuring the Odds of Your Worries
So let’s apply the principle of figuring the odds to all of our fears. What are the odds of your present worries happening? Let’s just take one worry–our jobs. What are the odds of losing them?
Here’s an approach to handling this worry:
- What is the worst thing that could happen? The worst scenario is that I could lose my job.
I love to catastrophize. When I begin to think in terms of losing my job, I’m seeing the worst scenes of Great Depression era movie and book portrayals. I’m sneaking on a train and riding the rails like the rest of the hobos. I’m driving across the desert a la Grapes of Wrath in an old jalopy with all my possessions strapped to the top, ready for the motor to burn up in the dessert. I’m leaning over the radiator with the water spewing out like a Yellow Stone geyser .
Then gratefully I can reason with myself about how improbable those scenarios are. There are no rails to ride now and cars and highways are definitely better. This is going to be better than my horrific imagination. This is the first step in figuring the odds.
- How can I make the worst case scenario better? I first start to realize that although 25% of people were unemployed during the Great Depression that wasn’t everyone all at once and few remained unemployed all through that decade. The big takeaway for me is the 75% were employed, and when I have a 75% chance of something being true, I consider 75% to be really great odds.
The obvious way to make the job loss scenario better is to 1) become a better saver, as most of us have become 2) tighten up relationships within your organization and network outside (yes, you can do it virtually) 3) be agile and willing to do new things 4) and never stop upgrading your job skills.
- Live in Daylight Compartments. One of Carnegie’s great analogies is a ship that starts taking on water. The captain closes the compartments where the ship is taking on water and continues on the journey with the compartments that have air that keep the ship afloat. Obviously this wasn’t true in the case of the Titanic, but Titanics usually don’t happen.
If we focus on what’s working today, we will most likely keep our lives afloat. We should draw from the past, and not live in it. We should plan for the future, and build a bridge from where we are to where we will be. But we should live in today.
- We should connect spiritually. Whether it’s prayer, meditation, or just a time to be quiet and listen for the insight that will come to us, a spiritual connection is key to leaving worry for a fuller life, finding ourselves, and our direction.
Use Those Mental and Spiritual Tools to Manage Depression
And here’s another thought about the importance of these principles. We do not oppose anti-depressant prescriptions. At the same time, the more we are able to learn and apply mental and spiritual tools like the four mentioned above, the less dependent we’ll be on chemical solutions to manage worry and depression.
In the US, 25,000,000 people have been taking anti-depression drugs for over 2 years. One in every 8 Australians use anti-depressants, including 100,000 Australian children. In Great Britain, it’s one in five. Statistics in Western Europe are increasing.
As we read the news, we learn that the use of alcohol and drugs are way on the rise. Family issues and in some cases family violence are on the rise. Children are suffering from isolation.
Learning and using mental and spiritual ways to stop worrying and start living becomes more important every day.