If anyone has the inside edge on worry, it’s me! My nickname as a five-year-old was “Little Miss Worry Wart”. Seriously, it was! I worried about everything a five-year-old could worry about, and then some.
Of course, there were some pretty traumatic events going on in my little five-year-old life that gave me some valid reasons for worrying. If those things were happening, who was to say other bad things wouldn’t happen, like my mom dying or us getting hit by a car on a trip? Unfortunately, the same mentality has followed me into my adult life. “Why shouldn’t I worry? Life has proven bad things do happen!”
My husband has queried as to how worrying about potential bad things accomplishes anything. I have tried to explain to him that it “prepares” me for if they do. I’d rather worry about them so I can “prepare” than to be caught off guard. Here’s a (pitiful) example:
My husband is late getting home from work. I happen to know that he has been working on a masonry project in the middle of nowhere, with no cell coverage. I also happen to know that I have no clue where the place is — no address, nothing — and the owners are on vacation.
So he’s late. And I picture him laying at the base of a ladder, a huge chimney block crushing him and making him unable to get help. Because it’s winter and temperatures are below freezing, I picture hypothermia setting in and then his death.
Now my worry takes me down this path fraught with emotions. I have so built up his fall, his injury, and his death, that it has become real in my mind. I picture the police showing up at the door to tell me, the funeral, and the days after. By the time he walks in the door I have not only been to his funeral, I have come up with my plan of action for supporting my daughter and myself without having to declare bankruptcy.
This is a true scenario that has happened more than once in my world. I warned you that it was pitiful!
Although my reasons for worry make sense to me and to every other worry wart out there, I must admit, all this worry is exhausting. I worry that:
~ There will be a fire in my daughter’s room and she’ll be trapped behind flames and I can’t get to her.
~ Our car catches fire and I can’t get my girl out of her car seat.
~ A bridge collapsing and our car going into the water and being trapped as we slowly drown.
~ What people are thinking about me.
~ That I’m going to die a slow, painful death of cancer like my grandmother.
~ That all the unsafe people in my life will come back and harm my daughter.
~ I worry my daughter won’t be treated well in our church nursery! I have mild anxiety attacks every time I leave her in there!
~ That my mother-in-law doesn’t fully approve of me and somehow I disappoint her (though my husband swears this is as far from reality as I can get).
~ That my daughter (and future children) will grow up and rebel and hate me as their mother.
~ My husband will take my daughter to the store in the summer and accidentally leave her in the car. (I’ve watched way too many Oprah’s on this subject.)
The list goes on and on and on. I know it sounds foolish to some, but for those of you reading this article who experience this, you know exactly what I’m talking about! You live in this world, too.
When I say worry, I mean I get so obsessed with one of these negative thoughts my heart begins to race and I want to begin crying. I’ll get up at 2 in the morning to check the locks on our door and make sure my daughter is still in her crib to assure myself no one kidnapped her. I’ll make sure I definitely unplugged the toaster and the coffee pot so fire doesn’t happen. I regularly check my purse to make sure I have scissors in there in case I ever have to cut my daughter out of her car seat. Not only do I have physical reactions to all this worry, I get compulsive in some of my actions as a result.
Many of you, like me, are saying, “Yes, but as you pointed out, bad things did happen, so there’s nothing to guarantee that more bad things won’t happen. Like you, I want to be prepared! If I don’t worry, I won’t be ready when it hits me!”
In some ways, worry is a good thing. By this I mean, it’s good to be aware of potential bad things that can happen. It’s not a bad thing for me to have scissors in my purse in case of an accident in which I need to cut my daughter out of her car seat. It’s not bad to have fire precautions in place or to teach my daughter fire safety rules when she’s older.
It’s a good thing to leave strict instructions with nursery staff that only my husband and I are to pick my daughter up. It’s wise to have my husband leave the address of where he is working on a project and give me a projected arrival time, so I know where he is and that something is wrong if he doesn’t show up. There is discretion in locking my house and parking in lit areas when at the mall at night.
However, awareness quickly blurs into obsessive worry with personalities like mine, and that is not healthy. Nor is it good for my daughter to grow up with. In my attempts to combat this bondage of worry in my life, I have been practicing the following things:
The reality check is, there is no harm in being aware of potential but also being aware of the truth that “today is the tomorrow I was worrying about yesterday.” In other words, almost everything I ever worry about never happens.
Worst Case Scenario
This might seem to defeat the whole try-to-quit-worrying campaign that I’m on, but it actually doesn’t. I have allowed myself five to ten minutes to think through a worst case scenario with all it’s horrific images and strong emotions in order to ask myself, “So if it did happen, what would you do? Or how might you be able to prevent this?”
Once I have answered those questions, I then lecture myself that I have the plan of action I feel I need for such a situation and if it ever comes into play, I’ll put my plan to use. But then I also lecture myself that rehashing the what-if’s will accomplish absolutely nothing — so move on!
Enjoying the Moment
In this self-counseling I have done, I have come into the stark realization that I have missed out on so much because of my worry. I have missed the gorgeous scenery as we have driven, and my husband’s hand holding mine, because I was playing out a tragedy in my mind. I have not even noticed the beautiful music and awesome preaching in my church service because I was imagining someone with a gun coming into our service and gunning us all down. I have lost so much necessary sleep because of lying in bed, too terrified that if I slept I wouldn’t hear the intruder who was coming in to hurt us.
I am trying to treasure the good times as they come and not miss out on the them because of worry.
Nothing can lift my spirits and get my mind off my worries like positive music that is full of beauty. I think one hour of listening to music can be worth three hours of therapy, quite honestly, and I have made sure that my home is full of it whenever possible.
Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, said, “If you know how to worry, you know how to meditate.”
I practice the Christian faith, so my meditation is focused on Bible verses and my beliefs in God. Not everyone practices the Christian faith. This doesn’t mean that you can’t meditate, however. You can meditate on the tenets that you hold to in your particular faith and belief system. Replace the worries with those beliefs and let those consume your mind instead.
Avoiding the News and Certain TV Programs/Movies
While I don’t want to be naive about the state of our world and out of touch with reality, I have also learned to stay away from the evening news and newspapers. I might check in with CNN once a day on my computer, but for the most part I skim what’s happening and don’t linger on news briefs laden with horror.
I have also learned that watching shows like CSI and Cold Case just can’t take place in my life. Shows like that only feed my worry and anxiety and give me even more mental images than I already have. The same goes for certain movies, such as the one that Angelina Jolie just starred in, Changeling. Some can watch a movie like this and be saddened that it took place, but for me a movie like this will paralyze me with fear (just watching the trailer triggered my worry).
Naming My Blessings
Being an “Eeyore” personality who focuses on negatives more than positives, by default, is one of my greatest weaknesses in this battle against worry. I don’t think I can ever change my innate personality, but I do think I can hone it to become stronger in the weak areas. I’m striving to do this by purposefully thinking through my blessings and all the good things in my life on a daily basis. My mind can’t be full of two things at once. Thus, if I have it full of the happy things in my life, it can’t be full of worries.
This battle against worry will probably always exist for me, given my personality, my past, and the harsh reality of today’s world. However, I have the hope that I can learn to live without it controlling my life and making me miss out on living life to the fullest.