The practical de-escalation of worry

In order to maintain its power, common anxiety (sometimes called worrying) needs your help. Constant reminders, moments of conflict and concrete examples all pitch in to keep our worry on the warpath, amplifying it and further frazzling us.

The feeling of experiencing failure in advance happens to many of us. But with active encouragement we can make it much worse.

Without our help, it’ll likely fade away. But if we work at it, we can keep it going for hours.

Not only do each of us experience worry, the feeling of imminent failure, but we often escalate it with our words and actions.

“Don’t you know that this is the biggest meeting of my career? How could you have forgotten to pick up the dry cleaning!”


“The inspector is coming, and if we fail, they shut down this franchise. I want you to redo this entire section, and work overtime doing it. In fact, call in Jim and Bob from their day off, right now.”

What’s happening here? We’re connecting the feeling of worry (it’s not really the biggest meeting of the year, it just feels that way, and the inspector has never failed us before, it just feels that way) with the real world. That gives us the ability to turn that worry into a concrete component of the actions that we’re taking. By doing so, we further reinforce the tactile and imminent nature of our feeling.

The thing that just happened is real, our action is real, therefore the anxiety must be real as well.

It takes this continuous narrative to keep the worry roaring along.

What happens if instead we say,

“Yikes. This big meeting that’s coming up has me stressed, and I was hoping my lucky jacket would be here from the cleaners. But it’s not, so I’ll need a minute to find an alternative. Either way, the meeting is going to go fine, it always does.”


“The inspector is coming and our perfect record is something we’re proud of. Would you spend a few minutes going over these three spots so we can know that we did our very best?”

You could make the choice to actually work to amplify your fear of the negative outcome instead of working on the real problem. But you can’t do both at the same time. Either you’re amplifying your worry or you’re working on a solution to the problem.

The alternative, a path worth seeking out, is to create a positive cycle, where each action we take creates a bit more confidence and calm, not less.

We can choose words and tones that are softer, that don’t raise our blood pressure (or the ire of the person who’s working to support us) and that more directly get us to where we’d actually like to go.

And it’s free.

The Situation Room might be a profitable TV show, but you don’t have to live there.