The Art (and Futility) of Worry

February 9, 2015
Cover: K. Hewitt (1986) and S. Kellog (1976)Cover: K. Hewitt (1986) and S. Kellog (1976)Cover: K. Hewitt (1986) and S. Kellog (1976)

Cover: K. Hewitt (1986) and S. Kellog (1976)

I’m a worrier. I think I was born worrying.

When I was a child, my mother read me ‘The Three Sillies,’ an English fairytale that highlighted the futility of worrying. The moral of the story was obviously lost on me and as I grew up, that worry turned to anxiety and eventually evolved into full blown panic attacks.

So much for foreboding fairytales.

I am not alone in my constant worrying. I dare say that a large percentage of the population can relate to that funny feeling in one’s stomach…butterflies turning to a knot…knot turning to nausea…nausea turning to heavy breathing, lack of sleep, etc, etc…all from worry. Our minds are very powerful and stressful thoughts can alter our bodies, our behaviour and our emotions. Before we know it, worrying has taken over our lives.

I’ve started going to an anxiety support group once a week where I am joined by people from all walks of life. Ex-soldiers, stay at home mums, teachers, CEOs are all there to reign in this overwhelming worry. From people’s jobs to traumatic experiences, from in-law conflict to a fear of flying, all of these people have stressors in their life that at one point or another have controlled them. What I like about the group, besides the authenticity, transparency and candid nature of everyone involved, everyone there is so normal. They are just like me: Masters in the Art of Worrying.

As I get older, my worries change. I rarely worry if people dislike me or not (their loss) or if someone looks at me funny on the subway but instead worry about my husband driving in a snow storm, whether or not I’ll be a mum or if the people I love are happy and healthy. Although I can credit some of it to life experience (and a reduced amount of tolerance for BS), I must say that a great deal has come from therapy, support groups and yes, self discovery. I have been challenged to ask the question ‘Why?’ and to change ‘What if…’ to ‘If then..’ 

After a particularly fantastic group session last week, I wanted to share six UNTRUE assumptions about worrying that I have focused on dispelling and I invite you to do so as well. Take a deep breath and enjoy. 

1. Worrying is doing

Worrying does not have an impact on actual life circumstances. Ask yourself if the outcome of a situation will change because you worried. The chances are, they won’t.

2. Worrying means I care

We know people, places and things are important to us by the time we devote and the connection we feel toward them. We break that connection when we worry, become stuck and unable to efficiently provide support. We also cause interpersonal conflict when we believe someone should be worrying about a situation to show they care.

3. Worrying keeps me prepared

Constant worrying robs you of flexibility and spontaneity in your life. You have a preoccupation with hidden meanings and intentions. You start to believe that the world is a hostile place that requires constant and cautious strategizing to avoid being caught ‘unawares.’ Frankie says relax. 

4. Worrying will eventually provide answers

Analyze results, yes, but to a point. Worrying to provide answers will leave you seeking reassurance, intolerance of uncertainty and the inability to make decisions. Nothing in life is certain and you need to be okay with that. (My father once told me, ‘I know three things for certain: I’m black, I have to pay taxes, one day I will die.’ #truth)

5. When I worry, I plan

Planning potential solutions and how/when to implement them is a great idea! However, when you spend all of your time making contingency plans for every possible outcome, you have wasted time and energy that could’ve been put toward the solution.

6. Worry is uncontrollable

The more you monitor your thoughts and try to stop worrying, the worse the worrying gets. When you worry about worrying itself, you start regarding the feeling as dangerous and have a greater difficulty detaching yourself from the worry. (I know, I know- That sounds like a riddle) 

Know that it is okay to worry. Accept it as an emotion that is normal to a human being, address the worry and move on.

Please note that I am not a mental health professional. These are merely the opinions of a young woman with years of mental health care under her belt, supplemented by hand outs and the amazing staff at Trillium Health Partners.

If worry and anxiety are taking over your life, please visit your family doctor and they can help you and/or refer you to the proper specialist. There is someone willing to listen to you and support you.

Above all, please know that you are not alone!

*Advice from Overcoming Anxiety 4: Working with our Thoughts as provided by Trillium Health Centre


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