He is smiling, casually dressed and appears relaxed. She is grim. He is the one who over a year ago lost his job, a well-paid executive position. She is the one now working two part-time jobs but earning little. Severance pay is spent, unemployment compensation soon to end, savings dwindling. Retirement funds are next.
They’ve long since come to terms with ending their marriage, both emotionally ready to move on without rancor about the past. But her frustration with his apparent easy acceptance of being unemployed is clear. She thinks he is not worrying enough, no longer making a serious effort to find work, too comfortable receiving gratuitous benefits, playing golf, drinking too much.
He listens and does not react, arms spread wide across the back of the couch. But to me his enduring smile seems a nervous cover, and I wonder if he is immobilized by repeated rejection and his anxiety hidden but high. Her anger, fear really, flows form their unknown financial future, for college costs loom for both of their children and ongoing expenses erode their hard won security. They are mired in uncertainty.
So many with jobs are worried about losing them, and so many who’ve already lost them are worried about when another will be found. A number of my clients are afloat in both boats.
Here’s what I’ve recently read: Worry about the unknown is what does us in. Although it’s counter-intuitive, bad news is easier to take than the possibility of bad news. Researchers have shown this to be true.
Consider a study conducted at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The members of two different sample groups were informed they would receive twenty electrical shocks. One group was told that each shock would be intense. The other group was told that three of the shocks would be intense, seventeen mild. Those told there was a small chance of receiving an intense shock sweated more profusely, and had a more rapid heartbeat, than those who knew for sure that all of the shocks would be intense.
A University of Michigan team studied patients whose colostomies were permanent and compared them to a group that had been advised there was a chance their colostomy could some day be reversed. It was the first group that tested as being happier than those who lived with a hope for reversal.
Another finding: Those who opt for genetic testing and get a negative result fare better than those who know their family history places them at risk, but decide not to find out where they stand.
It seems that once we get bad news we adapt to our changed circumstances and work at making the best of it. But waiting for the bad news that might come keeps us in a worrisome state that undermines well-being.
My personal solution when unsettled by disturbing news: I give myself over to fretful rumination for about twenty-four hours, imagining the worst possible outcome, contemplating what survival will look like, what consequences might have to be faced. Next, over the days that follow I connect with my trusted friends and loved ones and tell them about my worst fears. Why sharing in this way lessens my anxiety, I’m not completely sure, but the relief and the strength to move on purposefully is real.
Then I gather as much reliable data as I can about the problems that might have to be confronted, (but not absolutely everything that Google has to offer), learning only as much as I need to develop a course of action for the present, and I write it down. Uncertainty is banished to another day, and my plan is available for rereading when it sneaks back in.