What if: Reducing chronic worry

We worry about a great many things:  How will my interview go? What will people think of me?  Will I pass the test?  How will I pay this bill?  Will I get the loan?  Do I have cancer?  When worry becomes chronic, it can be debilitating, souring our relationships, triggering illness, and fostering pessimism.

Worrying is always an exercise in control.  It prospers because it temporally gives us a fix, falsely giving us a sense we’re in charge, only to reach an inevitably higher threshold to keep our anxieties in check.

One lasting memory I have of my father was his spending long hours in his favorite chair looking out the window, deep in thought, most of it worry.  In doing so he lost a great deal of life’s joy.  It’s what worry does in overdrive. If he had been paid for every worry he’d have been very rich.

Worry is a bully you need to standup to, not indulge, to make it go away.

It’s also a habit and in this case, needs undoing, and like all bad habits, can be unlearned.

The good news is that its remedy may be less difficult than you may have expected, or a matter of getting a handle on it by changing the way you think about life’s inevitable stresses.

The vast majority of our worries fall into three categories, each with its own remedy:

1.    The unimportant:  So much of what we worry about turns out to be trivial if you apply the test of time.  You’re having trouble with a neighbor. That can be unpleasant. Or what about the deadline for getting that assignment done at work?  Or that you may not get that job or promotion you had your heart set on?  Or that Nancy or Bill may not return your affection?  For perspective, ask yourself what would something like this matter a hundred years from now?  

 2.   The unsolvable:   Common sense should tell us the futility of worrying about fixed verities like death and taxes that can’t be changed no matter how we try.  I know such things can be scary, but we lessen our anxiety when we accept life’s randomness and adopt coping strategies to keep ourselves reasonably safe, and pile-up while we can, the nows of life around us as in fostering good relationships, doing what we enjoy, and thinking positively.

3.   The uncertain:  This category may include what we worry about most.  Will I still have a job?  How can I pay my bills?  Is it cancer?  If we could predict the future, we’d invest wisely and profit immensely in the best stocks, bonds and real estate. But even here, the experts at this sort of thing often predict wrongly and fail miserably. The consolation is that most of the uncertainties we worry about never happen or that we”ve simply squeezed out alternative possibilities with one scenario conclusions, making ourselves miserable.  As Montaigne in his inveterate wisdom once put it, “My life has been full of miserable misfortunes, most of which never happened.”  The trick is to accept uncertainty by not reaching conclusions you’ve no way of knowing are inevitable. It’s always a good thing to question your assumptions and consider alternative outcomes.

Summary:  Worry has a positive role when it alerts us to take action as a preventative. It’s why we save for retirement, buy life and health insurance, limit our indebtedness, change our diet, etc.  It becomes a weight when we wake to it, carry it throughout the day, and take it to bed with us at night.  It can harm relationships and affect our physical and mental health.  Remembering the three primary worry types and putting their coping strategies into daily practice can help you retrieve the happiness you mislaid.

Be well,

rj

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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