Do you worry? If so, why? Have you ever stopped to consider exactly what worry is, and why people worry? Have you considered what it does to you, and if it has any beneficial effects on us, as people?
When I was a young man, a group was popular by the name of Dire Straits. (An interesting side note is that the name of the band allegedly came from the fact that that’s where they usually found themselves, financially – ‘in dire straits,’ but I digress) One of their songs was entitled Why Worry and spoke on that precise subject. Now, some 30 years after the song was made, it turns out that they were more on the mark than perhaps they knew in encouraging people to not worry. Here’s why.
In the book Fear Less: Real Truth About Risk, Safety and Security In A Time of Terrorism, author Gavin DeBecker points out the following facts about worry:
- Worry is fear that we manufacture. It is not authentic, and it is not part of our natural defense system (i.e., the defense system that causes you genuine fear when you are confronted with a life threatening situation) It is, in essence, fear about something that we, ourselves, have chosen to feel fear about.
- Unlike true fear (which is involuntary and automatic), worry is a choice. We choose to worry about something, someone, or a situation. It’s important to note that, again, this is distinct from fear, which is an automatic response to a genuine threat, and anxiety, which is concern about predictions in which you have little confidence. It is interesting to note that the word anxiety, like the word worry, stems from a root word which literally means “to choke.” Unchecked anxiety is as detrimental as unchecked worry – but that’s another post. 🙂
- People often worry because it provides some secondary reward:
- Worry is a way to avoid change. When we’re worrying, we’re not acting on the situation
- Excessive worrying helps people deal with matters that they cannot influence. By worrying, you feel like you’re doing something and so it helps you avoid the fact that, in reality, this is a situation beyond your control
- Worrying can offer a protection from reality. How many people have you known who were such excessive worriers that, eventually, you started hearing phrases like “Don’t worry him/her/mom/dad” or “I’m worried half to death?” These phrases, and others like them, serve the worriers by keeping them insulated from reality.
- Worry can be a cloying (excessively emotional, almost sickening) way to have connection with others; the idea being that to worry about someone shows love. In reality, it’s a very poor substitute for love, and especially for taking loving action, as many “worried-about” people can attest.
- Worry is a way to rehearse dreaded outcomes so that if they occur, the worrier believes they will be prepared. Of course, it doesn’t work that way and, in addition, does nothing constructive to prevent anything bad from happening. Worrying is not the same as planning; it is not an effective safety precaution.
So what do we do? How do we stop worrying? Well, there are many ways but ultimately it comes down to us, and a choice – the very first step, as with so many other things, is to be willing to admit that we worry and that we want to stop because it is not only pointless, but actually harmful to us. Without that step, there’s no sense in “trying” to stop because chances are good you won’t. That is part of the nature of being human.
- If you’re willing to take that step, here are some ideas that may very well help you as you go down the road toward a life free of pointless worry:
- Realize that action is the antidote to worry. Action can be as simple as asking yourself “Does this worry even make sense? Is it even realistic?” When I have sat and watched some of those “Ways the world could end” shows with my sons, I’ve been careful to tell them that yes, some of these things COULD happen, but the likelihood is so small that to sit and worry and fret over it would be insane. Is your worry realistic? If you determine that it is, DO something about it. Do you worry about your own safety? Take steps to make yourself more safe at home and as you travel. Do you worry about your health? Take steps to improve your health and give up habits you know are unhealthy. Take action instead of wasting energy worrying.
- Realize that many times, we worry as a way of distracting yourself from acknowledging a less palatable issue, or to distract ourselves from what IS happening in favor of what we imagine COULD happen. It’s easier, after all, to imagine that bad guys might be planting bombs in the convenience store we’re walking through, for example, than to acknowledge that there is a dodgy looking character checking out where the cameras are placed and how many people are behind the counter, or, even worse, seeing if we’re alone and paying attention.
- When you find yourself worrying, change your question from “Could this happen?” to “Is this happening?” or “Will this happen?” “Could” is basically completely open-ended since, in theory, pretty much anything COULD happen. You’d be surprised (I know I have been!) at how many things we “worry” about that are laughable when we take a hard, realistic look at them.
Finally, realize that not everyone is willing (or able) to accept this and acknowledge it. Like the person who stays in an abusive relationship “because they haven’t killed me – yet” (don’t laugh – that’s an actual reason given, and illustrates well how frightening change can be) you may have friends, loved ones or even family who will continue in their cycle of worry for whatever reason. That’s ok – it doesn’t mean YOU have to, nor does it mean you need to keep exposing yourself to their endless list of things to be worried/anxious about.
So – what will YOU do, today? As GI Joe used to say, “Now you know – and KNOWING is half the battle.” (The other half, of course, is DOING)
God bless today, my friends.