Why worry?


When I was growing up the motto in my family was: “If you worry hard enough, bad things won’t happen.” From a very young age I took this to heart and began worrying about everything. I really believed that this worrying, my worrying, was actually having an effect on outcomes. Then I began to notice that bad things happened, in spite of my worrying. So, what does a person do? Worry harder, I thought. I spent most of my childhood worrying about everything and continuing to have no control over anything. Bad things happened, good things happened too, but that was not my concern. My worrying was purely focused on preventing bad things. We don’t need to wake up Freud here to see what happens to a child who spends most of her childhood worrying.

I’ve learned over my life that no amount of worrying has any effect on outcomes. Actions might alter a few things, but not worrying. I’ve watched and observed that I’m not alone in this process of worrying. Many people, sad to say, spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things that they can’t control. Many of us agonize over decisions we need to make, or have made, as if our lives depended on them. Once we make a decision we worry about the outcome or the alternatives and options that we passed up. It’s an endless loop if you stay on it. If you’ve ever been in a 12-step program, you know that this concept of worrying doesn’t work, so we give it up to our higher power and do what we can and move on. Easy peasy! NOT!!!! I am a very skilled worrier. It took years of practice to perfect this skill. And yet, no matter how skilled I am, it is still ineffective. Unlearning this takes time.

So, what do I do about this worrying dilemma? At 66, I know both in my head and heart that just about everything is out of my control. When I find myself in that spiral of worry, I catch myself a lot sooner, have a good laugh, remind myself that I’m not that important and try to move on. I travel a lot in my life, in fact I’m writing this blog from Myanmar. There is so much I could worry about if I wasn’t a recovering worrier. For example, I’m boarding a plane, whose name I can’t pronounce, to go to a part of this country that most tourists don’t go to, and we are the only foreigners on this flight. The things to worry about are endless. I know that once I decided to come on this trip I gave up control of all these things. So I let go, for real, and board the plane for an adventure of a lifetime, at least this year.

The older I get, the easier it is to let go. Time is limited and worrying takes up a lot of time and energy; physically, emotionally and psychically. So, I move through life as best I can without my old friend “worry” and have the experiences and surprises of life instead. In the words of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver:

I Worried

 I worried a lot. Will the garden grow? Will the rivers flow in the right direction?

Will the earth turn as it was taught? And if not, how shall I correct it?

Was I right? Was I wrong? Will I be forgiven? Can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing? Even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading, or am I just imagining it?

Am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And I gave it up. And took my old body and went out in the morning, and sang.

I hope your day is filled with song!

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,