“Why worry? If you’ve done the very best you can, worrying won’t make it any better.” – Walt Disney
Having descended from a long lineage of worrywarts, I grew up with a deep-seated belief that worrying, somehow, gave a person control over a situation. If I was not worried enough about a significant matter, I feared that I would face an imminent risk of loss and failure. I inevitably got caught up in a whirlpool of chronic distress every time I faced uncertainty and challenges in my life.
Worrying, just like for many others, provided an illusion of control and an oblique sense of comfort. I was convinced that if I agonized sufficiently over a situation, I would magically turn the prevailing cosmic law and order of the Universe in my favor. As you can imagine, these plaguing thoughts of dominion resulted in a heavy mental and emotional load that had me in a constant state of fatigue and anxiety.
It was not until I stumbled upon the delightful series of books called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson that I was finally able to see the forest for the trees in my predicament. I was unequivocally convinced of the detrimental impact of my incessant worrying and the corrosive effect it was having on my inner peace and my cognitive abilities.
The books provided the incisive perspective that I needed to desensitize the critical matters that were overshadowing my psyche. I could see how innocuous all these imagined threats were when placed against the backdrop of the big picture of my life. More importantly, I could see how my unwarranted concerns were robbing me of the pleasures of living in the present moment.
I also learnt some practical techniques to help me re-center myself whenever I’m caught up in a negative mental loop. When it comes to managing worrisome thoughts, what’s most beneficial is a two-fold approach: first is taking on a healthier perspective on your life. Second is creating lifestyle changes that accommodate your new way of thinking and live it in your tangible reality.
However, we should not give worrying a bad rap just yet. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater because worrying does, in fact, serve an important purpose. It has a vital function when it comes to the survival mechanism within human beings. A healthy dose of concern about significant matters is absolutely essential in certain situations.
Nature has intentionally programmed us to foster a healthy form of skepticism to ensure our survival and safety. The most primitive and instinctual part of our brain that generate feelings of fear has greatly facilitated our cavemen ancestors in dealing with the real dangers of living in the wild, such as fearsome animals and other external threats.
This reptilian-like component of the mind is still very much present in our mental makeup. It is the very same part of our brain that gets activated whenever we experience an outbreak of worry. However, this propensity to flee or fight in the face of an impending threat is only a short-term coping mechanism that supplies a limited burst in energy for us to immediately step out of harm’s way.
But if we engage in these repetitive, worry-laden thought patterns, we inadvertently prolong this “fight or flight” response, which builds up an incredible amount of stress within our minds and bodies. We will experience numerous stress-related symptoms, which will wear us down over time. Not only do we face the risk of contracting complicated health problems but we can also ruin the quality of our lives.
The hazards that result from living a stress-filled life necessitates an ability to discern which matters require our concern and which ones don’t. According to a survey done by Rescue Remedy, the average adult spends 1 hour and 50 minutes a day worrying. Clearly, thought management is a skill that we urgently need to learn to improve our overall mental health.
We can’t afford to be blasé and nonchalant about genuinely weighty issues in our life, but neither can we drive ourselves nuts over matters that do not require our attention and energy. It is a balancing act that can only be achieved once we learn how to make accurate assessments about the urgency and the gravity of the situations that we encounter.
I have created a list of the top 4 things that I believe we should avoid expending our mental currency on so that we can conserve it for more pertinent concerns. Please note that I have not included obvious issues such as irrational fears and phobias, which would require psychotherapeutic intervention.
- Your physical appearance: Nowadays, we are bombarded with images of beautiful celebrities and models that pose in magazines and on the silver screen in all their airbrushed glory. This flood of images of these glamorous personalities deludes us into believing that they represent the coveted standards for personal style and beauty. If we believe that we fall short in any way, we may become overly critical about ourselves and dismiss our personal assets, such as our character, heart and mind. While we should certainly make an effort to put our best foot forward by taking care of our bodies and adhering to basic personal grooming rituals, we need to be wary of obsessing over the things that we cannot change about ourselves (for example, our body type), and find a way to make peace with them.
- Other people’s opinions: As social beings, one of our paramount needs is to experience a sense of acceptance and belonging. But sometimes, people can go overboard in their attempts to gain this acceptance from others, particularly when they lack self-confidence and have low self-esteem. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a desire to influence others in the best possible way, especially in critical situations such as job interviews or dates, but after a certain point, we have to be willing to let go of our agency over the situation. There is nothing we can do to control the final decision that other people make. We can’t let our future or our emotional equilibrium rest in the hands of someone else because people are not always as predictable as we expect them to be. We have to release our attachment to what others think while always believing in our own intrinsic worth.
- The outcome of your creative efforts: The creative process needs to be fueled by the love for our art or vocation. We can only churn out the best results in our work when we give ourselves the freedom to be immersed in a state of creative flow because that is how our creative genius can get unleashed. When we are charged up with the love for what we do and a genuine belief in our capacity to successfully engage in our creative bliss, we will unlock the portal of imagination. Incessantly worrying about how our creative efforts will be received by others will disrupt our creative flow and dampen our enthusiasm.
- Aging and death: Almost everyone is instinctively afraid of the process of growing older and eventually dying. The mere thought of facing the inevitable final frontier petrifies many and can cause some people to run off to the cosmetic surgeon or the make-up and skincare counter to reverse the clock of aging. Yet the more that we resist nature taking its natural course, the more frustrated and resentful we will feel about this stage of our life. We can learn a lot from those elegant elderly men and women who age so gracefully (like fine red wine). They may not have that youthful glow anymore but in its place, they radiate all the wisdom, peace and satisfaction of a life well lived. They don’t allow the inevitably of death to discourage them. Instead, they befriend death and use it as a reminder to not take anyone or anything for granted and to live each and every day of their life to the fullest.
Novelist Thornton Wilder once said that the imprisonment of the body is bitter but the imprisonment of the mind is worse. I believe that once we release our minds from the mental shackles of worry, we essentially open the gateway towards living a life of freedom, love and boundless possibilities.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What are some issues in your life that you would like to stop worrying about? What steps are you going to take to make the shift?
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