Excerpt from the show on A Fine Time for Healing, Worry What is it Good For: Absolutely Nothing
Written by Randi G. Fine
Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but it never gets you anywhere. ~Erma Bombeck~
Do you spend most of your time focused on the future, worrying about what might happen? Do you believe that if you worry enough you can prevent things from happening? Does worrying interfere with your ability to calmly face life? If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider yourself an excessive worrier.
Worry, which is a form of speculation, is a natural response to many of life’s uncertainties. Everyone worries from time to time, and that is a good thing if it prevents recklessness or spurs someone to action. Occasional worrying may serve a purpose–in certain situations it can act as a motivator. It can be positive when it causes us to resolve problems, prepare for things like exams or job interviews, or see a doctor to have something suspicious checked out.
Chronic worrying, an obsession with life’s “what ifs” that causes anxiety and consumes you with fear, is an entirely different thing. Excessive worriers feel uneasy, fearful, or overly concerned about a future event. They repetitively think about or are preoccupied with the possibility of negative outcomes.
There are many reasons why you may worry. Though it appears irrational, if worry did not make sense to you or there was not some sort of payoff, you would not do it. Perhaps you are someone who does not like to be caught off guard. You may be unable to tolerate uncertainty, doubt, or unpredictability so you worry to prepare yourself for every possible outcome. Worrying may be your way to try to predict the future and control the outcome.
Perhaps you are someone who thinks that if you worry enough and leave no stone unturned, you might come up with a solution. Or maybe worrying distracts you from your emotions or keeps your mind occupied until the future arrives. Sometimes worry is rooted in poor self-confidence—it is easier to worry about something that you feel incapable of handling than to actually do something about it.
Some people worry excessively to get the attention of others. Or they think that if they worry about the worst case scenario, any outcome will be better by comparison. And some chronic worriers believe that they can prevent things from happening by worrying about them.
Some parents think that worrying proves they are devoted and care about their children. They think other people see it the same way—that if they are not worrying, others will see them as bad parents. This mindset is usually handed down from generation to generation. If your parent or parents were worriers you may believe that worrying shows love. That could not be farther from the truth.
Some people feel a sense of accomplishment when they worry. They feel like they are problem solving. But worrying and problem solving are two different things. Problem solving requires a logical plan of action. It is proactive—worrying is not. Dwelling on worst-cast scenarios does not help you deal with the problem—it does not lead to solutions.
Though it may seem like worrying helps to predict the future, avoid surprises, and control the outcome, it is just an illusion. Worrying about the future does not make life safer or more predictable—it just generates more worries. The only predictable outcome of any situation is that it never turns out the way you think it will. There are too many variables in life–we have no idea what will happen in the future, so why worry?
We live in a culture and an era that promotes worry and stress. With news playing twenty-four hours a day, we hear about the economy, crime, terrorism, conspiracy theories, environmental health hazards, natural disasters, dietary concerns, and incurable diseases. We constantly hear about new scientific breakthroughs—it seems that everything we eat or expose ourselves to causes cancer.
Many people worry about money; how they will pay their bills, fix their car, feed their family, save enough money to send their children to college, or pay for healthcare. Some people worry about their investments, getting sued, or how safe their money is in the bank.
People worry about their business failing or about their jobs; what happens if they get fired or laid off, what happens if they don’t get a promotion or raise, what happens if they don’t meet a deadline, what happens if they get caught in traffic and are late for work? Young people worry about school; finishing projects, taking tests, getting anything less than an “A.”
Many people worry about their health or their family’s health. Every lump, bump, headache, and cough turns into a fantasized terminal illness. A doctor’s visit could ease their minds—if they put their trust in the doctor. But doctors make many mistakes and miss so many diagnoses these days that it is hard to put all our faith in them. Some people worry about germs and cleanliness. Death is probably the biggest unknown any of us will face and that worries many people.
Safety is a major concern for chronic worriers. They worry about all the things that could possibly endanger their children; kidnapping, drugs, the influence of other children, violence in video games or on TV, or dying and leaving their children parentless. They worry about car crashes, plane crashes, and crossing the street. Some worriers go out of their way to only make right turns when driving because they fear the risk of turning left and having to cross traffic. Many people worry about being the victim of a crime and how they’ would handle it.
We worry about losing what we have; our relationships, our monetary wealth, our mental faculties or physical abilities, our freedom or independence, and our power, status, or fame. We worry about what is happening in our country and around the world.
Some people worry about what others think of them, about being judged, or about having their true self exposed. They are afraid to be vulnerable, make a mistake, to not be perfect. Some people worry about knowing their true selves and what they might discover behind the facade they show others.
And the most useless thing that people worry about is the past; things that have already happened and things that they cannot do anything about.
I did not point out all the things there are to worry about in life to prove that you have legitimate reasons to worry. Granted, there is much in life you could worry about, but the constant stream of consuming doubts will paralyze you and ruin the quality of your life. Worrying is a time waster; it overshadows everything else and limits the time you have to experience all the good things that life has to offer you. You cannot keep bad things from happening by worrying about them, but you can keep yourself from enjoying what goes on in the present.
While worry dominates your thoughts, all the mental space that should be available to receive solutions is blocked. Concentration on immediate tasks is nearly impossible when you are busy worrying about the future. Habitual fears, doubts, and worries work waste your time while negating your ability to be present, productive, and successful in life.
Are you the type of person that starts worrying the moment your head hits the pillow? Problems seem worse at night when there is nothing to distract you from them. But when you allow yourself to worry before going to sleep, you stimulate your mind and make falling asleep very difficult. When you do fall asleep your sleep cycles will be disturbed; your sleep will not be as restful and rejuvenating as it should be. You will find yourself edgy and tense the next day.
Are you so entrenched in worry that you cannot imagine life without it, yet you hate feeling like a nervous wreck all of the time? Persistent worrying is often accompanied by side effects like headaches, anxiety, tension, irrational fears, apprehension, and indecisiveness, and can even bring on debilitating psychiatric symptoms such as depression, neurosis, hyper vigilance, panic attacks, and paranoia.
Excessive worry and anxiety are not normal, healthy states of mind. They trigger the fight or flight response which causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol boosts blood sugar levels and triglycerides which are meant to fuel the body. But if this fuel is not used for physical activity, the body will react with symptoms like dizziness, headaches, dry mouth, nausea, shortness of breath, muscle aches and spasms, sweating, difficulty swallowing, tremors, rapid heart rate, and rapid breathing. The hormone surge causes physical changes in your body that may lead to serious physical health issues such as digestive disorders, heart disease, immune system suppression, and high blood pressure.
Worrying serves to reinforce itself which makes it a very hard habit to give it up. Most chronic worriers believe that worrying protects them in some way. As long as you believe that worrying serves a positive purpose in your life, you will continue to do it.
If you are a chronic worrier, you have probably tried telling yourself not to worry and to think positive. That is like telling yourself to close your eyes for three minutes and not picture great big yellow polka dots. When you close your eyes, you will not be able to get the thought of great big yellow polka dots out of your head. Telling yourself to not do something makes you pay extra attention to it. The very thing you are trying not to do becomes more prevalent in your mind.