MY WEEKLY BLOG
CAN WE TALK ABOUT WORRY?
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never
– – – Mark Twain
I don’t want to worry you, but can we talk about worry? I come from a long line of worriers. My mother was a pro, especially when there
was money involved. I called her some years ago and told her that when I was shopping for a dress for a wedding, I found a second one that fit really well so I got both of them. She went silent. Later that night, it was nearly midnight in the east where she lived, the phone rang. It was my mother.
“You never call this late,” I said. “Is everything okay?”
“Return the second dress,” she blurted.
“You don’t need it.”
I was stunned. She had no idea how many dresses I had and I could easily afford two. She hadn’t asked asked me what they cost but she had sat up until midnight, freaking out about money. My money. I tried to talk her down but I bet she didn’t sleep much that night.
This was not an uncommon incident for her. She never spoke about it, her generation kept those things to themselves, but I often noticed
her knit eyebrows and the look of fear in her eyes. She must have seen that kind of behavior from her mother who saw it from her mother. Granted, they probably had things to worry about, but constant fretting doesn’t solve anything and it really hurts. It’s a painful and useless way to spend time, it saps our energy and finding a way to stop it can be extremely challenging. But if we don’t, if we get in the habit of always expecting the worst, our lives become
unmanageable and filled with anxiety.
I once wrote a book proposal for a man who worked in the field of major disaster relief. I remember him telling me, “My job is to worry
about what could happen and figure out how to get ahead of it. If I’m doing the job right, I always expect the worst.”
He had a good excuse to expect the worst but what about the rest of us? Granted, bad things happen, but the degree to which we fret is
usually far greater that any event we experience. We stew over money, relationships, health, careers, and the state of the world. In my life, worry shows up in strange and sudden ways. I’m going about my day, doing what’s in front of me, nothing bad is happening, when suddenly I feel anxiety in my chest and I realize I’m fixated on something that doesn’t exist. Or that hasn’t happened. I don’t even know I’m doing it but when I become aware, my first impulse is to
beat myself up. What on earth are you fussing about? I scold myself. You have a privileged life, you’re healthy, you have a roof over your head, the refrigerator is full, you have good friends who support you, and here you are, fretting and feeling badly.
That kind of harsh knee jerk reaction does a lot of damage. It’s the last thing we need when we’re upset. It’s like having an open wound on your leg and instead of applying a healing balm and putting up your feet, you hit it with a hammer. As if you’re not already suffering enough. I try to remember that worrying is not an effective mode of preparedness. Breathing and giving myself positive messages helps a lot more.
We all have fears about the unknown, human beings hate being out of control, but I wonder why we are so quick to abandon ourselves when we need comfort. I try to imagine myself as a child. It’s okay, I tell myself. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m a smart girl and I’ll figure it out. I always do. I know that sounds kind of infantilizing and corny but I don’t care because it makes me feel better.
The Dalai Lama says, “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about, it there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” A spiritual teacher that I know suggested that
if we’re fearful about something, instead of getting stuck on it, we could choose a designated time to address the problem. Knowing we’re going to deal with it frees us up to concentrate on other things. It has worked for me in the past and I try to remember to do it, but what if I forget?
That’s something else to worry about.