Reality Check: Stewing on a Setback

If the word “stew” only brings to mind that tasty dish from a crockpot, you’re fortunate! For many, stewing means worrying, and it’s often over something completely out of one’s control. 

Everybody has setbacks, and it can be mighty difficult to get your mind off of them. Regardless of whether you call it fretting, ruminating, or cogitating, stewing takes place in your mind (perhaps enhanced by an uncomfortable feeling in your belly.)

For some situations, there is no action to take; you can only wait. In others, you could take action but you’re, well…stewing instead.

Amber is in the first situation. Like many, she has a medical issue disrupting her life; she’s been unsuccessful in getting it diagnosed, so it isn’t being treated.

After long delays, her latest test results came back negative. So, she knows one more thing that her problem isn’t. You could interpret that as good news! But Amber finds it hard to take that perspective, because she still doesn’t know what the problem is.

Her doctor has ordered yet another test which won’t happen for months. What is Amber doing in the meantime? Sitting and stewing. She can’t seem to take her mind off the possibilities. Over and over, she imagines her worst fears coming true. 

Amber can’t make anything happen faster. Time has to pass, that’s all there is to it. In this difficult situation, here are a few questions for Amber.

Does stewing help? That is, does worrying about possibilities make your life better? Or worse?

Amber knows that stewing makes life worse and might even add to her poor health.  She’s annoyed that she frets all day and recognizes that imagining the worst only adds to her agitation.

Would she like to stop stewing? Amber wants to stop, but feels that she can’t.

Rather than try to stop stewing completely, a more effective goal might be to reduce stewing. That is, Amber could choose a time limit, such as half an hour a day, as her “stewing time.” Stew to her heart’s content for that half-hour.  When worries pop up outside of that time, actively choose to put them off till next time, tomorrow.

Absurd? Maybe. However, it’s one way to assert some control over one’s thoughts.  Amber may not achieve perfect control, but she can have some control. And getting some control over her stewing moves Amber in a more effective direction.

Another suggestion ties in with choice theory’s “total behaviour” concept, which says that we can control our actions more directly than thoughts or feelings.

When Amber’s unsettling feelings are in charge, saying, “I have to stop feeling this way,” is likely not very effective. Try an absorbing activity, such as reading, puzzles, or learning. Activities that require thinking, as opposed to mindless TV-watching, can help prevent the mind from dwelling on negative options.

Even more effective is to change what she is doing. Singing, raking, knitting, cleaning, walking…any activity that engages the body or mind is helpful as long as it’s not so automatic that your feelings can take over as you do it.

Do you have effective methods to prevent stewing?

This entry was posted in Choosing Behaviour and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.