The Grey Wolves of Worry

5 Foolproof Strategies to Vanish the Grey Wolves of Worry

Times of transition are strenuous but I love them.
They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities,
and be intentional about new habits.
We can make our new normal any way we want.

– Kristin Armstrong – three-time Olympic gold medalist


The Grey Wolves of Worry and How To Spot Them

Two metaphors that are commonly used to describe life altering transitions that create massive disruptions are:

1. “Grey Wolves are circling”.
This expression epitomizes the state of worry, anxiety and ruminating on the negative. The grey wolves often sneak up on us in the middle of the night. The Italians have a wonderful expression of how our lives get upended when we least expect it. “Lupus in Fabula” means “the wolf in a fairy tale.

2. “The Black Dog,” exemplifies the state of depression. Although it can be traced back to Shakespeare, Winston Churchill’s name frequently comes up as the originator of this metaphor. Churchill is quoted as having speculated that therapy might be helpful for him “if my black dog returns.” … “He seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colors come back into the picture.”

The Black Dog is a little more complicated than anxiety and worry. Studies show that 40% of those with depression are able to shrug it off with long term, consistent exercise. Others must seek profession treatment.


The Grey Wolves of Worry

An essential life skill is learning how to manage transitions and keep the Grey Wolves and Black Dogs at bay


I have spent my career helping people deal with sudden change and life transitions: aging, divorce, loss of a job, abandonment, losing loved ones to cancer or suicide, going bankrupt, losing a home. Many of these changes happen somewhere on a daily basis.

While many major life transitions may be voluntary, what is taking place in the world today are consistent states of involuntary, massive disruptions. There is the chaos and divisiveness of politics, fighting over wearing masks, parents wondering if and when their children will return to school, the utter confusion of what may keep us safe to the coronavirus.


What To Do When Lifequakes Shake Things Up

Daily routines such as working out in a gym, socializing, shopping, and congregating has turned into a confusing, fear-based disaster. My wife mentioned today that she feels a sense of weariness.

Bruce Feiler, author of “Life Is in the Transitions,” thinks of these transitions as “lifequakes.”

Perhaps the most destructive result from a lifequake is a lack of meaning or a ‘meaning vacuum’.

A meaning vacuum sneaks up on you and, at first, you may not realize it. You might become bored with activities you have once enjoyed. Mindless distractions such as overeating, surfing the web, watching endless TV or drinking too much alcohol may mute the fear but keeps us clinging to outmoded useless habits or addictions.

An essential life skill is learning how to manage these transitions and keep the Grey Wolves and Black Dogs at bay. Understanding how to deal with these lifequakes comes with a thorough understanding of change.

Lifequakes get you STUCK. Learning the mental tool of focus and moving through the stages of change with grace gets you UNSTUCK and helps turn fear and anxiety into renewal and growth.

Change has three distinct stages, and the more you know about the nature of change, the easier it is to move through them.

1. Letting Go
When we are smacked in the head with a change due to crises, the natural knee-jerk reaction is to resist. In the first stage of change, resistance is at its peak: denial, despair, anger, blame, sickness, sadness, and mourning. It is in the first stage where we are resisting loss.

2. The Dead Zone
This is a time of reorientation. Often, we feel at our worst with a combination of hope and despair, confusion, and adjustment. We begin searching for meaning.

3. The Leap
In the third stage, we begin to identify with the new way. We may feel a blend of fear and excitement. In order to take the leap, we first have let go, release the old, and fully experience the Dead Zone. Only then can there be creativity and comfort.

Here is a personal example of a lifequake: My wife and I had just returned from working on a film in Scotland. Having had a marvelous experience acting, my emotions were at a peak. Shortly after returning home, I felt an unexplained depression.

I went to my internist early on a Tuesday morning. He recommended I see my cardiologist right away and have an echocardiogram performed. That evening I received a call from my cardiologist who informed me I had an aortic aneurysm and might not last the month unless I had open-heart surgery to correct the issue.

Terror, anger, fear. I was in the first stage of a life transition. As we moved forward, choosing a surgeon and a date for the surgery, I was mired in the fear of dying and feeling my life would never be the same. Then, the surgery. I survived and unconsciously moved to the second stage of change.

I began to identify and let go of certain rituals I could never do again. I could no longer lift heavy weights at the health club. I would have to give up scuba diving. With these and other changes, there would be a hole in my life. I took the time to mourn the old me.

The Dead Zone found me readjusting and searching for more new meaning.

I changed my focus and put my energy into creating a healing program for pre-surgery patients, like myself.

It was here I found new meaning.

Then, when least expected, The Leap. I began to identify with my “New Normal.” I had found meaning again and, was able to totally reinvent myself.

The great secret to weathering life’s transitions is – where you CHOOSE TO FOCUS.

Please do this simple exercise:

Take a deep breath, inhaling slowly and exhale.

Vividly recall something from your past where you felt fear or, something you fear in the future. Notice your body.

Next, focus on a memory from the past that was loving, empowering, joyful.

Notice your body again.

Case and point: Where you focus your thoughts impacts your body.


5 time-tested strategies to change your focus to the positive and get rid of the Grey Wolves


Strategy # 1. Move!

Moving is one of the simplest strategies to let go of stress and anxiety. It is the perfect strategy to clear your mind and set yourself up for strategy #2, identifying your emotions.

Walk, hike, run, dance, stretch your body while you stand, do yoga or tai chi, or simply move your arms. Moving the body helps to release stress and anxiety and clear your mind. Just move!


Strategy #2. Identify your emotions

This is monumentally important. To let go, you must know what you are feeling and why.

Fear is the most common reaction followed by sadness and shame. Once you identify your emotion, you can ask yourself the tough questions: “What am I afraid of? What is making me feel sad? What am I ashamed of?”


Strategy #3. Purge. Let Go. Shed the familiar

Letting go and purging is a way to clear out unwanted parts of our lives and open up a path for new things to come. It is also challenging and requires absolute commitment.

It may require you to give up things that you have been clinging onto for many years. This could be physical things, beliefs, mind-sets, being liked by everyone, bad habits, dreams, hopes delusions or dreams. It also may mean letting go of people that drain your energy, places you go, situations you put yourself in and literally anything that isn’t aligned with your renewal and reinvention.

My wife and I have been going through our home every day and choosing things to sell or give away.

Choose what to let go of and, do it!


Strategy # 4. Immediately identify what you can control and focus on it

This exercise is one of the most profound and effective strategies I can give you. I’ve used it with great success with thousands of coaching clients and workshop participants. It works instantly to reduce your stress!!!

a. As quickly as possible, list everything that you are worried about.
b. Go back and cross out all those things over which you have no control.
c. Circle everything over which you have some amount of control, including your attitude.
d. List one small action step you can take now to control what you can control.

You have just gained perceptional control of focusing on what you can control and changed your brain for the better. Congratulations!


Strategy #5. Do something creative/Create new rituals

Creativity: the ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new or imaginative in your mental world.

Ritual: A ceremonial act or action. An act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.

There are dozens of studies on the healing power of creativity and rituals.

You do not have to be good at a creative act for the act to reduce anxiety and reduce depression.

I have turned to cooking. Others I know began painting, drawing, writing poems, keeping a daily diary, or sculpting, meditating, taking virtual piano or guitar lessons. The list is endless.

Rituals are healing. They connect us to nature and others. They provide structure and meaning. Religious rituals bring peace of mind. There are many other types of rituals you carry out every day of your life.

A ritual I have adapted is to call and connect with at least one person a day.


I leave you with a gift – a 12 minute and 28 second relaxation exercise that you can turn into a twice a day ritual that I guarantee will change your mind for the better and ward off the Grey Wolves of Worry. Listen to it early in the day and again before you go to sleep.


Imagine That! Basic Relaxation Exercise from James Mapes on Vimeo.