“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
~ Lau Tzu
The word “worry” itself is enough to send me into a tizzy.
As I write, it seems difficult because I am worried, although I want something to do to keep my mind off being worried.
I usually suffer from “worry attacks” or come down with an “epidemic of the worries.” What I mean is that something—anything—will provoke me to worry, and it will totally and completely consume me. Sometimes it will simply be that I am in “worry mood,” and my mind tells me it’s time to worry. The absolute most ridiculous thing I do is when I have managed to forget what I was even worried about, but I know I should be worried about something, so I worry about not remembering what I should be worrying about until I remember the original worry.
Say that three times fast.
I can think of a list of things I worry about that are probably uniform amongst a group of people: money, my job, my family, my future. The thing is, I have a pretty sweet life, and I’m what we call “blessed” down here in the South.
I’m sure my sweet grandma might ask me what I have to worry about or be sad about. Well, here’s a starter list:
I worry about my six-figure student loan debt that grows every single day with interest.
I worry about my job and whether it can support me, and if it’s what I should be doing.
I worry about my sister, who is recovering from addiction.
I worry about my mother, who worries about my recovering sister.
I worry about my father, who worries about my mother and who suffered a heart attack when I was in college yet doesn’t seem to be worried enough about his own health.
I worry about that sweet grandma I mentioned because she’s the only one I have left.
I worry about what in the world I am doing with my life every day and whether I am living out my purpose and living a meaningful life, one that will make me happy.
And I would be being completely honest if I didn’t tell you that I am worried—scared—about what others are going to think of me for this list of worries.
What if my mom gets mad I disclosed my sister’s addiction? What if my dad doesn’t want me talking about his health? What if my boss reads it and gets mad? What if everyone thinks this is really really stupid?
What if what if what if?
What’s With All the Worry?
It seems like my list is predominated by things that lie in the future, that I cannot predict or control, and spins into a game of “what if” and worst case scenario. I didn’t even begin to play out some of the worst case scenario game for you above…I’m really good at it.
I can make ordering a pizza turn into a burned down house, ex-boyfriend, and night in jail (trust me, I could figure out a way to get there in the what if game). I worry about things that have yet to happen. I worry about people whom I cannot save from their own choices. I worry very literally about my future.
An article by Anne Kingston in Maclean’s magazine, The New Worry Epidemic discusses the concept that we are collectively suffering from a worrying endemic. According to California-based clinical psychologist Daniel Peters (quoted in the article) “The term ‘worrying’ has replaced ‘thinking’…people don’t say, ‘I’m thinking about this’ anymore; they say, ‘I’m worrying about this.’”
I physically feel horrible when I worry: my chest tightens and I feel distracted, distraught—just miserable. I cannot imagine all this worrying is any good for me. Those are not what I would describe as positive experiences.
So why do I do it? Why do I focus on the list of things above that are largely out of my control? Why do I jump to worst case scenario and play the what if game over and over?
Well, I’m sure there are about a million different answers to that question, some of which are in my genetics.
A basic answer would be that I am human.
Am I Doomed Because I Worry?
I would hope not. Seriously, no, I’m not. We all worry, whether it is about ourselves or someone else or something in general—perhaps the welfare of our earth. In case you did not notice, one person’s worrying got another person worrying on my list—worrying begets worry. I believe, in a sense, that a healthy level of worrying just means you are thinking, conscious and aware. However, if I am not practicing moderation, I experience all of those feelings described above that make me practically ill.
To make myself feel bad about worrying or give a negative stigma to worry would be to judge what is human.
In 1949 the psychologist Howard Liddel suggested that “Worry is intractably linked to intelligence, to what it is to be human.” Following this quote, Anne Kingston commented in her article that, “I have come to believe that anxiety accompanies intellectual activity as its shadow and the more we know of the nature of anxiety, the more we will know of intellect.”
I have anxiety, and I worry. A lot. I have a busy mind. I am also intelligent, thoughtful, observant, caring and witty. I will never stop worrying. I can’t turn off my mind and erase my troubles. Honestly, if I didn’t worry at all and was totally carefree, I might be pretty worthless.
If I didn’t worry, I might never pay my bills because I wouldn’t worry about if I had my car repossessed, my lights turned off…you get it. I can, however, modify the way I deal with worry and anxiety when it pops up in my head. Instead of chewing on it and fixating on it and thinking incessantly about the future, I can accept that the substance of the worry is something I am concerned about and move on.
Let it go.
Worry does not have to occupy and take control of my mind. Instead of the what if game, how about around of “so what?”
Putting It Into Practice
Today I checked my bank account balance. That got me worried about my student loans, credit cards, and all the other bills I need to pay, how little money I felt I had—I even scrutinized some recent purchases I felt I shouldn’t have made.
I. Felt. Terrible.
I even wondered frantically if I could sell some clothes to make some cash—just ridiculous racing thoughts in the mind of worrier. Then, I stopped and realized my bank account was not going to grow at 8:00 p.m. Purchases have been made, but I have enough money to pay my bills.
I can make better choices in the future, and I will deal with my finances as they come. I know I cannot predict the future and where I will be a year from now or even ten days from now.
Right now, my family is alive and breathing. I can’t endlessly worry about the number on my bank balance, especially when it is enough to support me and I’m not late on my bills right now. I could choose to not be complete in this article, out of my worry of what others will think and say, but I would be robbing myself of my authenticity.
Worry wants to control me by telling me to make decisions based on the expectations of others. Truthfully, I don’t know what others will say anyways! I can’t live in tomorrow when all I have is today. Presence is my savior from a mind ravaged and wounded by worry.
Really, I’m okay—worry just doesn’t think so, and never will.
So, worry, let’s strike I deal: You get to stick around, in moderation. Your job is to remind me of what’s important and keep me in check so that I don’t blow off priorities like paying my bills. You and I are going to have to learn to get along. I know you serve a purpose, but you do not define me. Worry you will no longer consume me, or master my mind. “Worries and tensions are like birds, we cannot stop them from flying near us, but we can certainly stop them from making a nest in our mind.” (unknown author).
You may visit, or stop by, but my mind is my own and not your home.
Author: Kaitlyn Swicegood
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Author’s Own