Ghost Worries: The Fear of What *Might* Happen.
I am high-strung.
It’s not that I’m not easygoing or that I’m quick to argue – not in the least. My high-strungness manifests in waves…or rather, in jolting earthquakes that eventually rumble themselves out.
My high-strungness comes in the form of Ghost Worries: the fear of what might happen.
Ghost Worries are anxiety-filled what-ifs that wind their way around my neck and heart if I let them, all but paralyzing me in the moment and preventing me from fully experiencing expansive joy.
My latest Ghost Worry? That in the midst of wedding planning (we’re in the home stretch!), I haven’t been as consistent with my day-to-day WANT work as I usually am – and that because of that, I’m letting this big and beautiful thing we’ve been building together over the last three years crumble.
Oh sure, my logical brain knows WANT will be fine.
But my high-strung brain flips. the. f. out.
The thing about ghost worries is that they’re usually triggered by something small and seemingly inconsequential to others. You felt awkward during a conversation? The ghost worry tells you that they’ll never want to talk to you again. You left the air on when you left the house? The ghost worry tells you your utilities bill will suffer. You forgot to email that person back? The ghost worry tells you they probably hate you by now. You missed an important meeting? The ghost worry tells you you’re fired. Ghost worries are those small, subjective missteps that equal a possible, objective fail.
My ghost worries manifest as an awful flutter (more like electric jolt) in my chest when it seems the impending future will reveal that I’m doing basically everything wrong.
What I’ve realized over the years is that my Ghost Worries have to do with not living up to expectations. Not perfectionism per se, but the result of letting others down. Of not being who others expect me to be.
Growing up, I was an easy target for meaningless teasing – the kind that people think is funny to do as a sign of love (pigtail-pulling syndrome, anyone?). My family’s even admitted this to me: I’m an easy target because I internalize things. I’m the type of person that people who love to get a rise out of others…love to get a rise out of. I was teased in middle school for being “perfect” because I color-coordinated, I was teased at home for being sensitive because Katie-directed sarcasm wasn’t something I found funny. I was told I was clumsy, double-left-footed, irresponsible, and couldn’t handle “nice things” because I didn’t keep my stuff pristine.
I’m a human mess, and instead of learning to embrace that, I was convinced there was something wrong with me.
My ghost worries became about who I was instead of what I did.
If you’re like me, you know that ghost worries feel heavy. They literally feel heavy in your body. They’re what can make numbing tactics seem so appealing, because if we’re numb we can’t feel the weight build. Emotional eating (or restricting), over-exercising, binge-watching, sleeping way in, biting comments, sharp attitude, isolation, immersion…it’s easy to find our own unique brand of numbing when ghost worries are all around.
However, when we numb our Ghost Worries, we’re never actually addressing them. When we ignore that they’re there, we also ignore that we can change their effects.
These Ghost Worries haven’t gone away, and I’m sure they never will. They’re a knee-jerk reaction so engrained in my nerves that not even the finest surgeon could reverse the triggers. But what I’ve learned over time is that it’s not about what triggers me, it’s about how I respond.
Here’s what I do when I feel a Ghost Worry start to spook me:
I TEMPER MY THOUGHTS. I’ve learned to only worry about things I can control in the moment, and leave the rest for later. When it comes to ghost worries, the emotions of the situation are always (okay, usually) greater than the reality of the situation. But that doesn’t mean that I ignore the emotions. I never, never, never push my emotional response out of the way. Because to me, when I push my emotions aside, I’m telling myself my emotions aren’t valid. I’m reinforcing the narrative that I’m too sensitive or an easy target. I am the perfect amount of sensitive, and my breadth of emotion has given me everything good in my life. But what I do is separate the emotion from the situation, not letting them dictate predictions that I’d have no say in. My ghost-worry predictions always give me no say in the matter. Nope. Feel the emotion, don’t feed it.
I TALK THEM OUT LOUD. I’ve learned to lean into my ghost worries, to talk them out with someone I trust who thinks highly of me but sees me as human, not infallible or immune to mistakes. And sometimes, if I’m alone when the ghost worries arise, I’ll talk them out to myself. Putting words to thoughts is extremely powerful, because fear feeds off ambiguity. The Unknown agitates those of us who are selectively high-strung – so talking things out to yourself is kind of like soothing the wound. Even better is when you can talk it out with someone else, because validation that you’re still lovable and worthy takes away the worry that this makes you otherwise.
I ASK: WHAT IS LITERALLY THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? Not to freak myself out more, but I always identify the worst thing – actual thing, not emotion or perception – that could happen, and how I’d respond to that (again, actually respond, not emotionally respond). Usually when I get that out of the way and realize there would be a game plan even in that scenario, the last horrible piece of The Unknown is removed. I’ve now got as much of a grasp on the situation as I can, not just the parts my mind was selectively making up to spook me into smallness and a scarcity mindset.
Feel the emotion, don’t feed it. Click To Tweet
So, what about me? Well, first off, the fear I was irresponsible and lazy and unprofessional gradually faded when I realized that only *I * know what goes on behind the scenes – if I am disappointing anyone right now, it’s probably myself first and foremost. And I can, strangely, deal with that. Talking it out also made me realize that my worst-case-scenario is that I flail a little over the next couple weeks, and I get back on track after the wedding. (Seriously Katie? THAT is the worst-case-scenario? Girl, you gotta get some more spooky Ghost Worries.)
More importantly, I felt. Hard. Feeling my emotions in the moment allowed me to experience them at their height, then gradually move through them. Not fight them – move THROUGH them. Although it doesn’t change my timeline, feeling everything in the moment will allow me to be pragmatic and proactive later on (squashing emotions always makes me reactive later, I’ve found). Also, I am getting married. MARRIED. To the best-for-me person I could ever conjure up. The wedding has a deadline, just like any other project I pour myself into. And then it’s back to real life…but better.
And that’s the thing:
when I confront my Ghost Worries, I remember how lucky I truly am.
Because that’s what Ghost Worries threaten to do, really: try and convince us we’re not as lucky as we really are.
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