Why Worry?

Have you ever wanted to smack someone who said that to you? Maybe your kids are having trouble in school, or you had a test come back positive, or you have an exam coming up, or…or…or… Then someone to whom you’re venting, someone whose support you had been counting on, says, “Don’t worry about it. It will be okay.” (Or some version of that.) Or maybe you ARE that person, and you don’t understand why that conversation went sour, or why your friend just can’t let it go and move on. Be grateful, but don’t get cocky – the “worry hamster wheel” can happen to anyone. For most of us, worry is like a hamster wheel. It squeaks in incredibly annoying pitches (even the plastic ones), and it can start at any time but seems to happen especially often at around 2 a.m. You can jostle the cage or try and stop the process (the hamster with issues of its own) in the moment, but it tends to start again without other, regular and regularly practiced, changes. Take heart, worrying is normal. It’s rarely helpful, but it is normal. It happens when we feel threatened by something that is out of our control. We get into trouble when we take that worry and apply our imagination to various outcomes with varying degrees of tragedy and reality; or when we exert too much effort trying to control the uncontrollable, which is pretty much everything outside our own thoughts and actions. There are many ways to either reduce your worry or make it more productive (which often has the same effect). Here are a few: First, do a reality check. How much of what you are worrying about is realistic, or highly probable to come true? (See Jesus’s wise words on worry in Matthew 6:25-27.) For example, your daughter has just announced she is switching her major from criminal justice to, say, philosophy. Your flash of relief at her choosing a less dangerous career path quickly fades to panic at the realization that philosophy is not really a career path. (For most of us, anyway.) You start to worry about the college tuition going down the drain, the prospect of her living at home forever, her marital prospects, grandchildren… And the hamster wheel gets up to high speed. What is true at the moment is that your daughter is making a choice about her major. The rest of your worries are neither happening nor guaranteed to happen. Second, remind yourself that, as bad as things might seem, you can handle it. You have intelligence, you have figured things out before, and most importantly, you are not alone. You have family, friends, God, professionals, community, etc. It might be hard to ask for help, it might seem hard to find, but it’s out there. If your daughter does end up spending an extra year at school, there are ways to work with finances. If she keeps living at home, well, there’s always therapy. What if your worry is more realistic? Then make your worry productive. Do some research. Knowledge is power - in this case we feel more confident that, while we may not be in control, we have some ideas about how to handle the situation. Reach out to professional and/or reputable websites, books, or persons. Need to make a decision? Do a decision tree to help map out your plan, or start making a list of pros and cons. Remember, this isn’t about trying to control all the variables or force a preferred outcome, but rather empowering yourself, giving yourself the confidence to handle whatever it is you are worrying about. And take care of yourself. When we worry, self-care tends to take a back burner. However, especially when there are legitimate things to worry about, self-care needs to take precedence. You will have a much harder time thinking clearly and staying calm when you turn to junk food and sweets for solace, or don’t get enough sleep, or isolate yourself. When you have trouble getting the hamster wheel to slow down or stop, counseling can be a helpful resource. You’re not “unloading” on your friends too much (something else we worry about…), and a therapist not only offers tools to help you get in control of the worry wheel (there are a lot of great tools!), but an objective viewpoint and a nonjudgmental attitude that helps you work through your worries. You may worry from time to time. Life can feel full of worrisome things for many of us. But worry doesn’t have to control your thoughts or your life.