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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Worrying ahead of time has its merits

Rika Kayama

Come March I am increasingly visited by people saying they are worried about being transferred or moving to a new residence. Of course, there are people whose new posts have already been decided, but who worry about whether they can get by in their new environment. But more common are people anxious about what "could" happen with an as-yet undecided transfer.

    Sometimes, things that are not yet decided cause us more trouble than things that have already come to pass. Known in psychiatry as "anticipatory anxiety," people with this kind of anxiety, even if they are able to buckle down and do things when they have to, worry ahead of time about what might be.

    There are times when I say to these kinds of patients, "That is anticipatory anxiety. It's fine. Spend time rehearsing for what may come. Then, when the time really comes, you will often be able to handle it well and say, 'How about that. It's much easier than I thought.'"

    Often, people are surprised when I tell them this. "I thought you were going to tell me it's no use worrying too much about the future," they say, or, "You're not going to cure me of this anticipatory anxiety?" I reply, "No, no, it's better to go all out with your negative predictions. Why don't we try it here?"

    "So, suddenly I'm ordered into a new post, and sent to a subdivision of the company on an island that I don't want to go to at all. When I take a look, there are no movie theaters or convenience stores... In the end, I have nothing to do on my days off but go fishing," one patient said.

    Most people, it seems, when told to make the worst predictions they can, can't actually come up with anything that bad. And, even in that bad prediction, they find some source of fun or hope. I sometimes feel that people are, in essence, optimists.

    Of course, there must be people who are disappointed by a job transfer that they didn't want, or having to leave an area they had grown accustomed to. However, even amid disappointment or sadness, we have the power to find some advantage or something entertaining. The patient for whom, "I don't want to be transferred" became "I can go fishing," it turned out, did not get transferred. When he showed up in my consultation room to tell me, he said, "Actually, I had started to want to change positions a little bit." (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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