How can I stop worrying and getting myself in trouble?
June 23, 2008 2:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to figure out how to be less paranoid and obsessive and how to not replay past and future negative scenarios in my head constantly – eventually getting myself in trouble. Often, I go over negative things that I've overheard or have suspicions about, and negative recent occurrences (like getting fired recently or conversations that might have left me in a bad light in someone else’s view). I feel paranoid about anything I cannot control and have ever had problems with perhaps. I was recently fired from a job for generally being too confrontational with my boss about things I saw going wrong and things I was feeling paranoid about. The thing is -- the paranoia is somewhat justified, and I have a hard time believing that it's possible not to worry about stuff all the time. And now at my new job I feel that I’m at risk of the same behavior, feeling jaded already about my new work situation and worrying constantly about everything in my life (and about not having a life, and even about worrying too much itself!) – how can I feel more relaxed and just chill out?

I think it might help if I explained a bit about the things I worry about and how often it happens.

I'd say that no less than 2 dozen times a day I replay my termination at my last job. I was there for several years and things went great at first (huge raises etc), until of course things stopped going great (started having to work with difficult inexperienced people who my boss had no problem with) and started complaining to my boss about what was going wrong (which she did not want to hear). And eventually my complaints all backfired and I was fired for being a pain in the ass, and not sticking my head in the sand (playing it safe like everyone else). Fine, but to get me fired my boss embellished on the facts and made her new boss think that I was this huge virus in the group (very untrue, honestly). Her boss eventually called me in and called me a monster (in so many words) and fired me. It was very unfair and the reasons given were very blown-up. Anyway, I obsess about the fact that this happened and cannot help being hateful and replaying the scenario every single day countless times per day. It's disabling.

The 2nd thing I worry about (less often) is that my girlfriend cheats on me. It's an almost-long-distance relationship and a couple other small things assist in making me wonder that she sometimes gets some on the side. She’s not very experienced but when she finally started dating, she was very promiscuous. And now we’re together monogamously and she is very likely not cheating at all. This actually isn't much of a problem but the worries stack up. But my point is that because I think about it sometimes, I can’t help but say things sometimes… and it’s saying stupid things that might make her want to cheat in the first place!! It’s like … worrying about something too much might actually make it happen. CRAZY! I worried about getting fired and felt paranoid a lot at my old job … paranoid that my complaining would get me fired … which made me worry more, which made me paranoid and complain more, which eventually got me fired!

My third major worry is my new job. I worry about this countless times a day. My "mentor" isn't a mentor at all, but claims that he spends a good portion of his time teaching me, when in reality he actually takes credit for some of the work I do (which he has nothing to do with), and teaches me nothing (and works from home 3 days out of 5 doing very little work for the most part). This worries me because I can see this becoming a major problem for me in the future. At times taking credit for my work in a way, not helping me learn this amazingly complex process by answering my questions via email, etc... I know that at some point I'm going to say something to him that displeases him, and he'll give me a bad rap to my new boss (someone I rarely talk to because of how much higher up the chain she is – VP level at a mid-sized company). This guy bad talks almost everyone in the group to me, and I suspect that he does it to me as well. And I’m finding myself turning in with that same sentiment and complain sometimes already (to some of the team members who have similar problems with whoever). This I fear will backfire too but don’t think of that when I’m flustered to the point of complaining a little. The other part about my job that is difficult, which I worry about quite often, is the fact that I'm here to replace the only programmer on our team; the architect of the entire process. This person knows all the ins and outs of how everything works, well beyond anyone else, and answers half the problems that come into our groups door (no one else can because they only know a piece of how things work) and wrote all the code that binds all the mini-processes together -- stuff that no one else can do. He is very expensive and I'm here to replace him. The problem here is that a) my “mentor” is a hindrance while b) I’m trying to learn everything that the strongest team knows so that I can replace him. He knows that I’m here to replace him and is supposed to walk me through his work. Well, this has been difficult, but I'm great at figuring things out. It’s....possible that I can replace a good portion of what he does, but when it comes time for his last day -- chances are I won't be able to fully replace everything he does. So that's bad but not the end of the world. The end of the world part is about the mentor who is more a monkey on my back than anyone helping me through this huge challenge, teaching me the process, etc… I get flustered with this stuff and can sometimes say the wrong things (being too honest) about what I see is wrong – and it’s bound to backfire.

So, because I cannot always hold my tongue 100%, I know that I'm going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time and get totally screwed over, being in this almost impossible spot at my new job after getting fired at my old job. This worries me and I fear that the worrying itself will help fulfill my negative prophecy or whatever…

This stuff sounds somewhat petty but it occupies my mind whenever I am idle. I worry that worrying too much is going to make me do or say stupid things like it did the last time.

It's also paranoia. I worry about something someone said a few days ago "what if they meant X (something bad about me" or what if what they said means that they're unhappy with me and will give me a bad report to my boss ... etc.

I was on a huge dose of Effexor for approx 5 years, and couldn't chill out enough to be more laid back at my last job and got fired. I took myself off of the medicine after that and have been at my new job for a couple months. I think I feel a little bit better off the meds actually -- so that's good.

Should I try to get some anti anxiety meds? I haven't had a real anxiety attack for years... but I know that a little bit of Klonopin every other day might quell my constant worrying. I have some but don’t think during the day to take it. I’m not freaking out – it’s more like a constant humm of worriedness that I think is going to make me crazy or get me fired again.

Sometimes I'm able to convince that voice that worries and remembers my firing to be quiet and relax, but a few minutes later off it goes again. Sometimes I try a little deep breathing, and that can help temporarily too. And getting a life might help, but how does someone in his mid 30s, in a long distance romantic relationship (1 state away), make new friends? I do some technical volunteering which is not helping me meet peers my age…

I guess my overall question is … if deep breathing sometimes, talking myself down, and huge doses of anti-depressants don’t work, how can I stop constantly worrying and stop getting myself in trouble?!? Too much negativity and paranoia.
posted by albatross5000 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You already recognize your problems as being thought-created. You are a prime candidate for successful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 2:32 PM on June 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

I realize this might seem facile, but have you talked to a therapist? It seems like (given the length of your question) it'd help if you could talk through this with somebody. And a therapist would be in the best position to hear what you're feeling with an eye towards how to move through some of these issues.

Other than that, I'd say find a social hobby. Don't know where you live, but something as basic as a kickball team or a book club might do the trick to get you out and about. It'll be especially helpful if it's something you enjoy enough to invest some of your excess mental energy in.
posted by ictow at 2:48 PM on June 23, 2008

A wise, old curmudgeon one told me, "Sonny, don't take yourself so damn seriously."

Control the things you can, and back away from the things you can't. It's simple really. You can't do a thing about what other people do, say, or think. You can only take care of albatross5000. If you are always doing your best at work, then that's all that any employer can ask. They don't need you to watch out for others, that's their job. If you always do your best with your girlfriend, she will love you for who and what you are. If not, then it probably wasn't destined anyway.

I realize it's easier said than done, but my advice is chill. Calm down. Work on your own serenity. Worry more about yourself and less about others. Have fun. Smile. And just for the hell of it, go do something stupid. It may relieve some stress. Best wishes to you.
posted by netbros at 2:49 PM on June 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Damnit, I could be incredibly uninformed but sometimes I feel that the US healthcare system seems to encourage the prescription of anti-depressants to move patients out of the way. I read Ask Metafilter a lot and the default answer for many inter-relationship issues seems to be to go on some form of anti-depressant without actually dealing with the core issues. Not denying that in some circumstances anti-depressants can be very helpful, I just think it's a conclusion that is jumped to without enough forethought.

Anyway, albatross5000 - your post seemed incredibly negative! Have you thought at all about the positives in your life either? You have your health, a job, a girlfriend, valuable skills - it's just your attitude that seems to trip you up a bit. You seriously have to concentrate on what you do have, and each time you think of a negative thought, why not counter the little hater inside you to make the best of a situation?

Hater: "I think my girlfriend is cheating on me."
Actual: SMS your girlfriend and tell her how much you care. Enjoy the response.

Hater: "I'm sick of this mentor guy taking the credit for all my work."
Actual: Before long I will take ownership of this project and do the best I can. (You could actually think more creatively about how you approach this problem, speak to the people that matter and express a concern with your mentor in a positive way - perhaps say "I feel concerned about X and Y with the project and feel that it's in your best interests to know Z isn't what it should be"). Assuming you approach the people matter with the right manner as a genuine concern for the work / good of the company, you will be appreciated.

Everyone of course is entitled to concerns, but look objectively at them if you can and communicate them in as positive a light as you can.

In regards to the responsibilities you are inheriting, do remember that it wasn't your decision to make you the sole programmer of the team, but it is your responsibility to communicate your valid concerns to your team.

As a general rule I'd recommend reading "How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie and inherit the philosophies therein. It's not a quickfix book but has some simple principles to live by and if acted on you cant go far wrong.

I really don't think meds are the way. Change your philosophy, at the end of the day, you have a job, a girlfriend, a talent for programming and figuring things out. Just be positive.

P.S. Also, make sure your sleep cycle is good, you eat well and excercise moderately also, these can have an incredibly positive effect on your well being. Not only that, make sure you effectively use your free time to enjoy life, get out there, see the sights, watch a few gigs, eat out, try something new. Make your life as fulfilling as you can, think about it! :)
posted by rc55 at 2:57 PM on June 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

I posted about this more in depth here, but basically the method that works best for me in these situations is: Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve.

An excerpt from Pema Chodron's Getting Unstuck, where she explains this better than I can:

Shenpa is the urge, the hook, that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. We get hooked in that moment of tightening when we reach for relief. To get unhooked we begin by recognizing that moment of unease and learn to relax in that moment.

You're trying to make a point with a coworker or your partner. At one moment her face is open and she's listening, and at the next, her eyes cloud over or her jaw tenses. What is it that you're seeing?

Someone criticizes you. They criticize your work or your appearance or your child. At moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste in your mouth, it has a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel like this experience has been happening forever.

The Tibetan word for this is shenpa. It is usually translated "attachment," but a more descriptive translation might be "hooked." When shenpa hooks us, we're likely to get stuck. We could call shenpa "that sticky feeling." It's an everyday experience. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That's the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us. Remember the fairy tale in which toads hop out of the princess's mouth whenever she starts to say mean words? That's how being hooked can feel. Yet we don't stop—we can't stop—because we're in the habit of associating whatever we're doing with relief from our own discomfort. This is the shenpa syndrome. The word "attachment" doesn't quite translate what's happening. It's a quality of experience that's not easy to describe but which everyone knows well. Shenpa is usually involuntary and it gets right to the root of why we suffer...

Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease, so we turn to what we enjoy—food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work or shopping. In moderation what we enjoy might be very delightful. We can appreciate its taste and its presence in our life. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our unease, we get hooked. So we could also call shenpa "the urge"—the urge to smoke that cigarette, to overeat, to have another drink, to indulge our addiction whatever it is. Sometimes shenpa is so strong that we're willing to die getting this short-term symptomatic relief. The momentum behind the urge is so strong that we never pull out of the habitual pattern of turning to poison for comfort. It doesn't necessarily have to involve a substance; it can be saying mean things, or approaching everything with a critical mind. That's a major hook. Something triggers an old pattern we'd rather not feel, and we tighten up and hook into criticizing or complaining. It gives us a puffed-up satisfaction and a feeling of control that provides short-term relief from uneasiness...

Those of us with strong addictions know that working with habitual patterns begins with the willingness to fully acknowledge our urge, and then the willingness not to act on it. This business of not acting out is called refraining. Traditionally it's called renunciation. What we renounce or refrain from isn't food, sex, work or relationships per se. We renounce and refrain from the shenpa. When we talk about refraining from the shenpa, we're not talking about trying to cast it out; we're talking about trying to see the shenpa clearly and experiencing it. If we can see shenpa just as we're starting to close down, when we feel the tightening, there's the possibility of catching the urge to do the habitual thing, and not doing it. Without meditation practice, this is almost impossible to do...

The Tibetan word for renunciation is shenlok, which means turning shenpa upside-down, shaking it up. When we feel the tightening, somehow we have to know how to open up the space without getting hooked into our habitual pattern. In practicing with shenpa, first we try to recognize it. The best place to do this is on the meditation cushion.

Sitting practice teaches us how to open and relax to whatever arises, without picking and choosing. It teaches us to experience the uneasiness and the urge fully, and to interrupt the momentum that usually follows. We do this by not following after the thoughts and learning to come back to the present moment. We learn to stay with the uneasiness, the tightening, the itch of shenpa. We train in sitting still with our desire to scratch. This is how we learn to stop the chain reaction of habitual patterns that otherwise will rule our lives. This is how we weaken the patterns that keep us hooked into discomfort that we mistake as comfort. We label the spinoff "thinking" and return to the present moment.

Once we're aware of shenpa, we begin to notice it in other people. We see them shutting down. We see that they've been hooked and that nothing is going to get through to them now. At that moment we have prajna. That basic intelligence comes through when we're not caught up in escaping from our own unease. With prajna we can see what's happening with others; we can see when they've been hooked. Then we can give the situation some space. One way to do that is by opening up the space on the spot, through meditation. Be quiet and place your mind on your breath. Hold your mind in place with great openness and curiosity toward the other person. Asking a question is another way of creating space around that sticky feeling. So is postponing your discussion to another time...

We could think of this whole process in terms of four R - s: recognizing the shenpa, refraining from scratching, relaxing into the underlying urge to scratch and then resolving to continue to interrupt our habitual patterns like this for the rest of our lives. What do you do when you don't do the habitual thing? You're left with your urge. That's how you become more in touch with the craving and the wanting to move away. You learn to relax with it. Then you resolve to keep practicing this way. Working with shenpa softens us up. Once we see how we get hooked and how we get swept along by the momentum, there's no way to be arrogant.

The trick is to keep seeing. Don't let the softening and humility turn into self-denigration. That's just another hook. Because we've been strengthening the whole habituated situation for a long, long time, we can't expect to undo it overnight. It's not a one-shot deal. It takes loving-kindness to recognize; it takes practice to refrain; it takes willingness to relax; it takes determination to keep training this way. It helps to remember that we may experience two billion kinds of itches and seven quadrillion types of scratching, but there is really only one root shenpa—ego-clinging. We experience it as tightening and self-absorption. It has degrees of intensity. The branch shenpas are all our different styles of scratching that itch.

I recently saw a cartoon of three fish swimming around a hook. One fish is saying to the other, "The secret is non-attachment." That's a shenpa cartoon: the secret is—don't bite that hook. If we can catch ourselves at that place where the urge to bite is strong, we can at least get a bigger perspective on what's happening. As we practice this way, we gain confidence in our own wisdom. It begins to guide us toward the fundamental aspect of our being—spaciousness, warmth and spontaneity.

posted by mothershock at 4:01 PM on June 23, 2008 [19 favorites]

i think you need to see a psychiatrist about a therapy program, at the very least. medication may help, too. there are other drugs besides effexor; something else may be more helpful.

good luck!
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:51 PM on June 23, 2008

I read Ask Metafilter a lot and the default answer for many inter-relationship issues seems to be to go on some form of anti-depressant without actually dealing with the core issues. Not denying that in some circumstances anti-depressants can be very helpful, I just think it's a conclusion that is jumped to without enough forethought.

rc55, At the time you posted nobody from AskMe had recommended medication. To the contrary, I suggested Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The other two posts before yours didn't mention medication either.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 5:07 PM on June 23, 2008

I posted several related threads in my answer to this related thread. I firmly believe you can affect this kind of obsessive thinking but you have to keep confronting it over and over, you can't let up. If deep breathing helps perhaps you should try to get preemptive, do it at regular times during the day.
posted by nanojath at 10:46 PM on June 23, 2008

Just wanted to thank everyone for the suggestions and helpful insight. Awesome! I'm looking into all of the suggestions ...

posted by albatross5000 at 5:45 AM on June 24, 2008

Gerard Sorme: Apologies, it was more of a general observation, I should have made it more contextual. Your suggestion of CBT is spot on and I totally agree. :)
posted by rc55 at 6:31 PM on June 24, 2008

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