"When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened." – Winston Churchill.
Some days I wonder how it all happened. How I started being afraid of things. How I became such a worrier. I’d like to say it’s the kid’s faults (easy to blame them and the dog), but really, I’ve been this way since my early twenties.
I used to be unprepared to a ridiculous degree. One time I went on a camping trip in college and didn’t even bring a sleeping bag. I slept on the hard floor of the tent, curled in a ball. And I wasn’t even passed out drunk. These days, I try to control my world by being overly prepared.
I used to be relatively irresponsible. A few minutes late to work, no problem. Ran out of gas? Oh well. Accepting a ride from a stranger when I was stranded? Yeah, okay, stupid. Now I ease my mind by being ultra in-charge and controlling. Hence my nickname, “TC” (Take Charge).
I never used to sit around thinking, “what if” as I jumped off of 100 foot cliffs in Greece or got on a plane during a snowstorm. Now, I habitually question, “what if” as a means of trying to prepare for the worst. It’s very depressing. And paralyzing.
None of this is fun. In fact, living with a worried mind down right sucks. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time and a place for worry. Like that time I was hiking and heard a mountain lion growl in the nearby trees. You bet I was worried. For my life. And, rightfully so. Once safe in the car I worried about my soiled pants too.
I miss the carefree days. I get that with jobs, kids and a mortgage comes a certain amount of planning and accountability. But, does the mind have to get so involved? The mind needs a good whooping, really. The mind is the beast that reminds me that bad things can happen and prompts me to think that worrying about them will stave them off. Just not true. We’ve all heard that phrase that 90% of what we worry about never happens. So, why worry?
Fear. We are all afraid. Afraid of not being good enough. Afraid of dying. Afraid of losing someone we love. Afraid of shattering the ideal life we have created. Afraid of failing. Afraid of not being perfect.
My theory is that we use worry to cope. It makes us think we have control. Worry intensifies as we get older because we’ve lived long enough to know about all the bad and freaky stuff that can happen. Our thoughts get the best of us.
If you are a worrier, you probably have triggers where your worry sets in. Mine is travelling. Weird, because who doesn’t love vacations, right? I do, but I fret. I know that every time I have plans to go out of town, I start to worry. About the unknown. About not being in a familiar setting. About everything. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to travel and do it a lot. But it can be uncomfortable for me. And I HATE flying. In snowstorms. On clear days. Again, loss of control.
So, if we’re to tackle this thing called worry, how do we beat it down and refuse to let damper our days?
I have a great book called “Worry - Hope and Help for a Common Condition.” I reference its highlighted pages when I need a swift kick in the butt. Here are my favorite worry busters:
- Get the facts. Base worry on reality rather than a terrifying fantasy your imagination has concocted.
- Reality-test your worry. Regain perspective. Ask someone who should know if what you’re worrying about makes sense or if you may have exaggerated it. Remember Freud’s advice: if you’re worried about lions in Africa, that’s okay. If you’re worried about lions in Venice, you’re stupid and wasting time (that’s verbatim Freud).
- Learn how to talk to yourself in a calming, reassuring way. Most worriers do just the opposite. They are forever yelling, “FIRE” within their minds. Learn phrases you can repeat to yourself such as “it’s never as bad as you think.”
- Listen to music. It’s scientifically proven to reduce tension and anxiety.
- Pray or meditate to keep things in perspective. “Let go, let God.”
- Develop connectedness in any way that you can. Social connectedness, familial connectedness, connections to your past.
- Talk about it. Sometimes speaking your worry takes the power out of it and gives you outside perspective.
Are you a worrier? About what? How do you combat it?