Keep calm and read on

LittleWaysKeepCalmMECH.inddDuring a dark moment of human history, a motivational poster appeared with a crown and the words “Keep calm and carry on.” Published by the British government as World War II loomed, this simple statement urged an understandably anxious populace to keep their chins up and go about whatever was theirs to do.

Mark A. Reinecke, Ph.D., pulls this into our anxious age in Little Ways to Keep Calm and Carry On: Twenty Lessons for Managing Worry, Anxiety, and Fear (2010). The lessons are straightforward, common-sense, and well worth considering, even if you’ve heard some of it before. Each lesson is succinctly introduced, followed by “Key Points,” “What You May Be Thinking,” “Now Ask Yourself…” and “What You Need to Do.”

Let’s look at Lesson 3: We Overestimate Risk When We’re Afraid. “The most important things to do when you feel anxious about a situation are get accurate facts and make an accurate assessment. When something bad happens, we tend to overestimate the likelihood that it will happen again,” it begins. (Don’t we ever.) So it’s important to ask yourself some key questions about what you fear will happen, the likelihood of it happening, the most likely scenario, factors that suggest the feared event might not happen or be so bad if it does happen, and how you will cope. These questions are basically the key points of this lesson.

“What You May Be Thinking” brings in the self-doubt: How can I be sure my assessment is correct? What if I’ve left something out? What if I make a mistake? “Now Ask Yourself …” breaks down the earlier questions a bit for the reader to address particular problems and coping skills. “What You Need to Do” suggests enlisting a trusted friend to help size up the most likely scenario or continuing the work on paper. Reinecke acknowledges the hardest part of all this is managing uncertainty . . . which is covered in the next lesson.

I chose this lesson to highlight here because it resonates with the way I cope when worries go zinging around in my head at night and I can’t sleep. Sometimes I make a list of things to do to deal with the issue the next day. I may make a plan for responding to Scenario A, Scenario B, or both. Just getting it on paper helps to both calm the storm and come up with a constructive response.

The book’s short, sweet, and to-the-point approach is negated a bit by the citations within the text; that’s more akin to academic writing. However — as I have told students and reporters, I’d much rather see sources cited awkwardly than not at all.

Chin up, then.