How many of us are worried about something right now? Genuinely worried. Couldn’t sleep last night kind of worried. Ate the whole tub of Häagen-Dazs kind of worried.
Worrying is part of the human condition. One of the oldest books in the world, the Holy Bible, talks about worrying. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (New International Version, Luke 12. 25)
It’s a good question. But it seems as if humans are wired for worry. And it makes us do strange things.
About a decade ago I was convinced I was going to lose my job. Weirdly, my first instinct was to book a dental appointment. As luck would have it, I didn’t lose my job, but in my panic, I managed to find a dentist who damaged my tooth and busted my lip.
I had to pay a hefty sum out of pocket to reverse the mess he made. After that, I vowed to never worry about losing my job again.
A few years later, I had another experience that brought me face to face with worry and forced me to put it in perspective.
One December, during a routine exam, my doctor discovered I had an internal mass. I was concerned but I took it in stride. In fact, I was rather blasé about following up even after he promptly sent me off to do an Ultrasound and then a CT Scan. My assumption was that invariably all these exams point to nothing.
So, I did what any sensible person would do. I went on vacation. And not one but two. The first was immediately after the CT Scan. I spent two glorious weeks in Jamaica celebrating Christmas. And then in March we gladly accepted an invitation to hang out at a time share in Orlando with friends.
My husband’s nagging finally got the better of me and I called my doctor’s office upon my return from an exhilarating but exhausting Spring Break at Disney.
Suddenly, I was plunged into a world of blood tests, MRI and an appointment with a specialist who reassured me that the mass looked benign. He said he could remove it laparoscopically.
But, he said, and there’s always a but, if it was something else, or if it tested positive for that unmentionable word … you can fill in the blanks here.
I took the news calmly yet when I looked at the faces of my children that night, the panic started to surface. I like to devour my worry with a healthy serving of Häagen-Dazs but, since we didn’t have any, I turned to eating slice after slice of brioche dripping with vanilla honey butter.
I tossed and turned at night. I fretted about the future. I became distracted and had a minor accident on the highway that week.
And then, I said, get a grip.
I decided to put my worry into perspective and move to a place of acceptance and surrender. I was at peace.
But I hadn’t taken my husband along that journey. A couple days before my surgery he sat across from me insisting that we should prepare the kids for the worst.
I realized that he was doing all the worrying for me, the kids and then some. I became more compassionate and explained my newfound wisdom to him: worrying wastes our energy because we are not going to change the course of action that we agreed upon, worrying will not change the outcome and finally, your worrying does not help me.
Uttering those words, I felt centered and relaxed. I had unmasked worry for what it is: a time-consuming, exhausting, distracting and utterly useless exercise.
Worry causes lack of sleep, elevates stress levels, affects performance on the job, ruins relationships and our health. Yet, we continue to worry when there is no proven benefit.
Years ago, I made my worry-busting short list:
- Immerse yourself in Mother Nature. I like to head to the beach to listen to the waves or I go for a walk in a beautifully landscaped park. These days, I take a short shuffle through the snow.
- Practice surrender. I accept how I am feeling without judging myself. I observe my thoughts without hanging on to them, especially those that cause me distress, and then I consciously make the effort to shift my thinking. Mindfulness and meditation apps are particularly helpful. My favorites are the Chopra App and Insight Timer.
- Express gratitude. It’s a proven fact that people who express appreciation are happier. Each morning, I write at least three things that I am grateful for in my gratitude journal.
- Call a friend. Very often our fears are unfounded but when adrenaline kicks in we cannot decipher if a threat is real or not. A trusted friend can pull you back from what a mentor of mine calls “‘stinkin’ thinkin’”, help you uncover a fresh perspective, and decide on the right actions to take.
- Draw upon the words of The Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. There is something soothing about those words which acknowledge that we are strong, wise beings who can rise from adversity.
These five actions still work for me. Tell me, what’s on your list? How do you chase away worry and change your state of mind?
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