Benita Zahn recently interviewed psychiatrist, Dr. Anthony Ferraioli on News Channel 13 (WNYT.) The title of the interview, “Coping with Chronic Anxiety.”
However, if I were to title the interview it would be “The Worried Well and the Worried Sick.” Terms they both used frequently and Benita and Dr. Ferraioli chuckled while identifying themselves as the Worried Well.
You’ll find a link to the interview below.
- Is this problem real at all?
- What’s the worst that could happen?
Benita understood that could be done for imaginary problems but wondered what could be done about real worry? Dr. Ferraioli offered three suggestions.
- Can I do something about it right now? If so, take the action immediately rather than waste time uselessly worrying.
- Can’t take the action right now? No problem. Schedule the action for another time. When can you take the action? In an hour, next week? Schedule the action in your calendar and then let it go until the scheduled time rolls around.
- Can’t do anything at all, ever about this real problem? Then let go. Just let it go.
Benita said that for some, letting go is the tough part. Dr. Ferraioli agreed and suggested a person who can’t let go might have serious psychological problems and should see a doctor. This sort of person he calls, “the worried sick.”
The Worried Sick spend more time worrying than not. Their worry affects their functioning and interferes with relationships. This person, Dr. Ferraioli suggested, needs to see a doctor.
Benita asked if learning to put worry aside—deal with it another time—if that was something that could be practiced. Dr. Ferraioli replied, “It’s a skill like any other skill…gotta practice.”
At the end of the interview the two joked around hahaha let’s “Not worry about anything for the next 10 minutes.”
A Critique of the Interview
This interview was held 9/26/16, just days before October 9th, which kicks off National OCD Awareness Week. Benita’s interview with Dr. Ferraioli produced a brilliant moment to segue into talking about OCD.
Instead a nonclinical degrading term was used: The Worried Sick. Sadly, the opportunity to raise awareness about OCD was missed yet again. Every year I see this opportunity missed in the news.
I met Benita Zahn when she introduced me to the 2014 YWCA Resourceful Women’s Luncheon. As she handed me an award she told the audience I was fighting for a population of people who suffer from an obsessive compulsive disorder.
So I know she is aware of the disorder and if only she had thought more deeply about the gift she has to influence and make a great impact for those, “Coping with Chronic Anxiety.”
I assume a psychiatrist is familiar with the symptoms of OCD. Although I’ve heard many stories over the years of people being misdiagnosed and treated instead with medication for Psychosis, ADHD or a Bipolar Disorder. I’ve had several clients say they weren’t diagnosed with OCD because the doctor said, “You don’t excessively wash your hands.”
Maybe I’ve unfairly held Dr. Ferraioli to a higher standard than I should. But, I think this would have been a great opportunity for him to educate the public about OCD. Especially nearing OCD Awareness Week.
The Worried Sick
Benita and Dr. Ferraioli referred to themselves as the Worried Well. The Worried Well apparently can let go. Those who can’t let go are apparently called, the Worried Sick. Maybe this is just semantics, but I don’t refer to any client or anyone feeling distressed as sick. I might suggest someone is misinterpreting stimuli or lacking resources, but not sick!
The fact that someone has trouble letting go of worry doesn’t mean they’re sick. People who are riddled with worry and anxiety can play competitive sports, work long days, take care of children, get a 4.0 GPA and help take care of a needy world. Despite all the worrying, they’re strong and competent.
The background noise in Benita and Dr. Ferraioli’s interview seems based on a medical model that sees people as having faulty chemistry that makes them “sick.” That’s disempowering and misleadingly suggests a pill is the answer.
No matter how much anxiety a person has, they can nurture what is best within themselves. Living with anxiety is not about weakness and damage. It’s about strength and living a value-driven life.
When you see the title, “Coping with Chronic Anxiety” you think, “oh there’s going to be some good tips about how to cope!” Yet, the focus of the interview was mainly speaking to the Worried Well and only offered one tip for those who chronically suffer from anxiety: go see a doctor.
Chronic anxiety is no laughing matter but the two of them were lighthearted and had a few laughs over their Worried Well selves. I suppose I sound a little mad. I’m not feeling angry, just disappointed. The interview is not correctly titled.
In this interview Dr. Ferraioli gives a few tips.
The tips are good and sound familiar to me, and probably will to you too.
Stay in the Moment
The tips Dr. Ferraioli talked about were good ideas. They sounded a little like the “3 Door” technique I talk to clients about. It’s a systematic way of properly compartmentalizing and prioritizing thoughts and worries.
The first door is Yesterday’s Door. Does your thought come from the past? Are you rewinding and replaying something that already happened? Nothing can be done about what has already happened. Put it through Yesterday’s Door and close the door. Walk away and move on to Today’s Door.
Your thought belongs in Today’s Door if there is an action that needs to be taken TODAY. You’ll work this worry through by taking action today. Make a to-do list and start checking off the steps to take,TODAY. If there is no action to take TODAY, then the worry goes in Tomorrow’s Door. This worry will be looked at again tomorrow.
And when tomorrow rolls around, you’ll ask, “Is there any action I’m going to take about this problem TODAY?” If not, it goes back into Tomorrow’s Door. When tomorrow rolls around, you’ll handle it the same way. “I don’t need to think about this TODAY unless there is some action I’m going to take today.”
Dr. Ferraioli also mentioned taking a worry and walking it through to the worst case scenario. I agree wholeheartedly that when people actually do this, they discover they would actually be able to handle whatever happens.
Worst case scenarios are unpleasant but endurable. The most liberating statement I’ve ever heard a client say is this: I’d rather have my worst fear happen than live in constant fear of it happening. Just give me the bad news and let me deal with it.
Dr. Ferraioli said that worry is useless. Absolutely! All the worry in the world can’t prevent something from happening. You can try all all kinds of safety behaviors (compulsions) to keep something bad from happening but none of it truly controls outcomes.
We simply don’t have control over what does or doesn’t happen. Control is nothing more than an illusion. Life is not about what happens to us but how we handle what happens to us.
Easier Said Than Done
And Benita’s right, letting go is easier said than done. Letting go is hard to do! Especially when the worry seems so real and catastrophic. Even harder, when the person has OCD which is like being led around by a chaperone on steroids.
Calling people the Worried Sick is not exactly inspiring. It’s not a strength-based approach and is not likely to empower or motivate someone to do something as hard as letting go.
The word “sick” swallows up strength and courage. And it probably creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I’m considered sick so I can’t act well.”
How to Let Go When It’s Hard to Do
This is the question that needed to be answered in a more hopeful, inspiring manner in the interview. Instead we heard that if you can’t let go you have serious psychological problems and need to see a doctor.
How is it possible to let go when your brain is telling you that your fear is so real and likely to happen? And the thought of this terrible thing happening feels overwhelming and impossible to endure. How is it possible to let go of such intense frequent worry?
This is the pain point of people with chronic anxiety. Whether it’s a phobia, generalized anxiety, OCD or panic attacks…how is it possible to let go?
No Matter What You Do It’s Going to Be Hard
Last week I posted in this blog on the topic of letting go. Using a shrug and saying, “Whatever happens, happens.” A few days later this comment was posted in response: “This [post] is very helpful. It is hard, however to shrug off the thought and not do the compulsion when your mind tells you to. But, that is the nature of ocd and the nature of bad habits.”
My response is that no matter what you do it’s going to be hard. Worrying is hard. Trying to control something you can’t is hard. Engaging in safety behaviors (compulsions, reassurance-seeking, avoidance) is hard. Doing something until it feels “just right” is hard.
Letting go is hard. It’s all very hard. But, if you don’t let go you’ll be dragged. And being dragged is the worst possible hard you can go through. You’re strong enough to let go. Yes, it’s hard but not as hard as being dragged.
Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. You have to choose your poison. Face your fears and free your mind. That’s going to be hard. Avoid your fears and be held hostage by your mind. That’s hard too. You choose.
The sort of thoughts you have–that’s not a choice. How you react to those thoughts–that is a choice. Your brain is lying if it tells you that you have no choice. You can’t choose your thoughts. Nobody can. But we all choose how we respond to our thoughts.
You’re strong enough to do HARD. You’ve done it before and you can do it again.
Develop New Rules to Follow
OCD is a rule monger. It defies all common sense and tries to get you to follow ridiculous rules. In order to let go, you’ve got to create a new set of rules you follow no matter what OCD says.
If you’re worrying about what people think about you. Follow this rule: Until someone gives you negative feedback to your face, it’s none of your business what people are thinking.
Obsessing about possibly being terminally ill? Follow this rule: As long as I can stand up straight, I’m not bleeding profusely, can take deep breaths and there is no pain unrelieved by medication, I’m not going to stop what I’m doing and rush to the emergency room. My doctor will follow me at a frequency s/he determines to be medically necessary.
Do you have harm avoidance OCD? Do you question your intentions and doubt your goodness or beliefs? Follow this rule: Actions speak louder than words. I can think bad things. I can feel bad. My behavior, the actions I take define me. Not my thoughts or feelings. I focus on my actions.
Letting go is not easy. True. But you’ve got to say, “so what.” I can do hard. I’d rather take the risk, than live like this.
Dr. Ferraioli mentioned the importance of practicing skills. There is no way to cope with anxiety without practicing. What you practice you get good at. So make sure you’re practicing skills that pulverize anxiety. If you fall, get back up.
It’s not the fall that counts. It’s the getting up. You’re not sick You’re strong. You’re in the fight of your life. You have every right to be hopeful. Everything you need is inside of you.
There’s a good wolf and a bad wolf. Which one wins? The one you feed. Nurture what is best…within you.
We kick off OCD Awareness Week October 9th at 2:00pm at the Calvary Methodist Church in Latham, NY. Our topic is:
“Owning Our Story and Loving Ourselves Through It: Embracing Who We Are.”
Here, you will not find the Worried Sick. You will find people coping with anxiety who are everything you would ever want to be: Strong, Compassionate, Empathic, and Conquering.
I’m not sure how long the interview link will work but here it is: The Interview. I’d love your thoughts!