Worry and its negative impact on life

13 Dec

For many years I used to say "I am a worrier". It was a fact that I did not even try to deny it. Worry was something that I was taught, just like every child growing into an adult. Worry about money, livelihood, health, social acceptance.. name anything that you are worried about and 9 out of 10 people worry about the same or at least something very similar.

Worrying is a good thing. It keeps you on your toes. Doesn't it?It does not.

Think about it: worry is always based on "what if" scenarios. What if I lose my job. What if I get ill? What if people think I am ridiculous? What if I make the wrong decision? What if someone I love dies? What if something unexpected happens that I did not prepare for?

"What if" scenarios are made up scenarios. They keep you on your toes, they pretend to prepare you for the worst. But they don't. In fact, you spend so much time on worrying about "what if" scenarios that if the worst really came to happen you spent so much energy and stamina on the thought of the actual event that you will likely not have enough of either to deal with the actual event.

A few weeks ago I had the strangest dream.

I was playing with a small string of wool. Innocent. Curious. Nothing out of the ordinary. And then I gave the small string a little pull. And suddenly unexpected bills and repairs fell into the scene - all of them I did not have the money for. Another pull and a letter fell into my hands, telling me that I had cancer. And then a voice told me about the death of someone very close to me. And the landslide continued until I was fully covered in fears and worries. All the "what if" scenarios that I had been building in my mind since I had turned into a teenager. I woke up, confused, scared and at that moment I realised that what I was doing to myself, what I had been doing to myself for over 25 years, was self-destructive. A downwards spiral of self-destructive ideas that drained me on a daily basis, causing anxiety and sleepless nights.

Don't get me wrong: nobody should walk through life, naively believing that nothing bad will ever come to them. In my opinion, there is a difference between worry and concern. Let me explain:

Worry is an idea that pops into your mind which raises a red flag, and your minds begins to mull over this idea over and over again. And every time you mull it over the little red flag gets redder, and every time you add a little something to this idea. For example, your mind tells you: I have this funny looking mole. Red flag alert. You mull the thought over and suddenly you are sure that the mole is something to worry about. And suddenly your illness has a name: cancer. And suddenly the mind asks: who is looking after your kids when you have cancer? Can you see this idea spiralling further and further out of control? Concern is also an idea that pops into your mind and again it raises a red flag. This mole is looking funny, I should keep an eye on it. And you end up checking the mole once a week to make sure that it doesn't turn bad. The red flag functions as a reminder for the brain to remember to check the mole. And only if there is a reason you contact your GP to have it checked.

Basically, concern is crossing the bridge when you get there while worrying is building a boat because the bridge might be burned (which you don't even know because you are still miles away from it).

The decision to stop worrying is not a naive one, although I am rather sure that the thought was the first thing that entered your mind. The decision to stop worrying is the decision to preserve the strength and energy that you will need if you indeed need them to deal with an unexpected event. On a mental level, worry has a drastic impact. Most of the anxiety that we find in our society is caused by worry about something that isn't real; caused by ideas that manifest in people's minds. And unfortunately, most worries are indeed inherited. If there was a term for it I'd probably call it "toxic imagination".

I personally decided for myself, that I will stop worrying. I am not naive, and I am most certainly not a starry-eyed simpleton who smiles at every flower in her way, blissfully ignoring warning signs and red flags. What I am is someone who is at the end of their tether with living through scenarios that are purely made up.

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