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To Dial Back Stress, Ask ‘How,’ Not ‘Why’

Hard moments don’t always happen for clear reasons. Navigate them by asking how you can move forward with grace and positivity.

Ask "how" instead of "why"
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

My son started 5th grade last month, stepping back into the building for the first time since March 2020. Anxiety was high—and it only got higher when some positive COVID cases came up in the school. Despite multiple layers of protection, including a high level of community vaccination, full masking in school and weekly testing, the Delta variant reared its head and sent everyone into a worry swirl for our vaccine-ineligible young ones. 

Out of my toolbox of authentically positive practices, I pulled this tip from the writer Catherine Andrews: turn down the volume on anxious, helpless, and self-pitying feelings by asking “how” questions rather than “why” questions. 

“Why” questions, like “why did this happen at our school?”, can be helpful when processing, problem-solving and protocol-adjusting. But there’s so much about life that we don’t get to control or have the power to understand. That’s where “how” questions come in. Here are some I focused on as the news from the school was emerging:

“How should I talk to my son about what is happening so he is informed but not afraid?”

“How should our family re-think our schedule to stay as safe as possible during this spike in cases?”

“How can I keep my body and mind calm so I can process this situation and make decisions from a place of information and not emotion?

“How” invites us to stay open to new ways of thinking, rather than feeling trapped in the “why” of a situation that can feel overwhelming. When we ask, “How can I….,” we are grounded in the premise that there is a way through the moment. It might not be what we want it to be, but it is navigable, constructive and less stress-inducing than wrestling with the big picture of a world we cannot control.

What “how” questions would help you today?

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