Worry: Small Things & Big Shadows

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We all know somebody who worries full-time. Their worry is sometimes a function of concern, sometimes a function of anxiety. Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow, as the Swedish proverb goes.

I stopped telling my worriers to stop worrying. Know why? Minimizing people’s feeling is unkind. Telling someone to stop feeling how they’re feeling is as thoughtless an act as it is demanding. We do it all the time. We say stuff like “Cheer up!” When we tell a depressed person to cheer up they’ll feel like their experience is an inconvenience to us. That’s just wrong.

Wayne Dyer calls worry a “useless emotion.” Okay, Wayne. Sorry, brah. I’ll just drop it then. Or, Wayne? Maybe your observation is useless. Now before you get too mad at me, lemme ‘splain.

We attach worry to the future. We don’t worry about the past. We may regret it, but we don’t worry about it. And in the moment, we might feel anxious. So, maybe there’s a good reason why we’ve evolved worry. It can spur our ability to map out, plan for, and engage in a thought process about how bad the future might really turn out. As long as you’re planning and thinking and not just reacting, you may be on to something positive.

So, sure, worrying won’t stop the bad things from happening. But it may spur you on to handle them. Worry, act, enjoy the good things. It’s okay. It’s one of those what it is to be human things.

Neuroscientists say that the human brain can’t distinguish between a real event and a vividly imagined one. This has tripped me up when I talk about a piece of writing. If I talk about it, I trick my mind into thinking I’ve already written it. Then it’s difficult, arduous even, to actually get the writing done.

With worry, what happens is that we build up the worst of the emotional habits. No. Not worry itself, but what I like to call “personal superstitions.” Professional worriers make a habit of entertaining an unfounded belief―that they’re not safe unless they worry. It’s superstition. I’ve dealt with a lot of mine and as a result, I worry a lot less.

It has taken the practice of self-awareness and meditation to come to my conclusions:

First, contentment is not insipid nor an uninteresting state of mind, at all.

Second, worry isn’t so stimulating that it deserves a huge chunk of my time.

But for some folks worry is stimulating! And yet, studies show that worriers tend to be intelligent, creative people. It takes imagination to dream up worries.

My way of diminishing worry has been to expand connection with others and not isolate as much as I am inclined to. Nothing like the light of day that engaging with others brings, and then voila! My worries diminish. When I can talk freely about what’s worrying me, I can gain some perspective―that it’s often just a small thing casting a big shadow.

I try not to be the smartest person in the room. My friends tend to be more rational than I, too. Sometimes. So, when I start to express worry, luckily I’m not told to stop. We’re having a conversation and I get to make a more rational choice for myself in the moment. Try that. It may just help those worries subside.

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