Are you a natural worrier?
Worry is like an earworm on replay. To break the cycle it matters that some kind of closure or distraction to that part of the mind is employed. 5 years ago I investigated worry and found out several things. I will see how many I can relate here.
Sometimes people say ‘don’t worry’ flippantly; my son regularly admonishes anyone present with his beautiful brand of confidence and problem-solving. Frequently he will come out with phrases like ‘Don’t worry mummy, I will fix it – daddy has some tools in the cellar’ with a cheerful grin. If he were any the wiser I would think him disrespectful or thoughtless, but he says it with trust and sincerity. He is magnetically opposed to worry. Others who say ‘don’t worry’ may mean to fix things, but the cycle needs breaking if I am to really stop worrying.
If someone says ‘Don’t worry’ and they have a position of authority, I’m a bit more at ease. If a doctor says ‘The injection might hurt but don’t worry – it’ll be over quickly’ I am inclined to believe them. If a reliable friend says ‘don’t worry about food – I’ll sort it out’ I trust them.
Trust is the opposite of worry.
If we can truly trust someone, we do not have any need for worry.
In order to trust someone, we need to know them and know that we can trust them.
I’ve discovered it’s often the case that we worry in order to prevent the worst-case scenario from happening. We try to make sure every eventuality goes satisfactorily. We love being control freaks.
As a population we have lost a degree of care-free attitude, because we fear pain which we could have averted. We like foresight. We like predictability. We like to be safe. So we worry, and we convince ourselves that because everyone else worries we must be normal and that it cannot be unhealthy. Our experiences in the past teach us to be ready the next time something happens. A rational and trusting way of doing this is careful preparation and foresight. Worry distorts preparating into predicting worst-case scenarios which are very unlikely to happen and which use up our energy unnecessarily. Worry allows us to fear the future if we hold on too tightly to the past. Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow, according to a Swedish proverb.
Worry is also bad for our health, causing tight muscles, tiredness, difficulty breathing, anger, distraction and keeps us awake. It interferes with happiness and makes excitement something to be wary of. Do you remember when you were younger and being excited was a positive experience? Excitement is about anticipation, which is wonderful when there is something good coming. When you worry, it is anticipating the opposite of something good coming. And so often, the thing you worry about is not coming at all.
Consider these statistics. An average person’s anxiety is focused on:
- 40% – things that will never happen
- 30% – things about the past that can’t be changed
- 12% – things about criticism by others, mostly untrue
- 10% – about health, which gets worse with stress
- 8% – about real problems that will be faced
An executive called J. Arthur Rank decided to do all his worrying on one day each week. He chose Wednesdays. When anything happened that gave him anxiety and annoyed his ulcer, he would write it down and put it in his worry box and forget about it until next Wednesday. The interesting thing was that on the following Wednesday when he opened his worry box, he found that most of the things that had disturbed him the past six days were already settled. It would have been useless to have worried about them.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve occasionally needed to write down all the things that are worrying me at a given time. I keep these pieces of paper, and whenever I go through and sort things out and come across one of them it always amazes me how irrelevant most of the worries were in hindsight.
Now if only 8% concerns real problems, we can already discount 92% of our worries by admitting to ourselves that they really aren’t worth the time they take, and we should find ways to distract ourselves from them.
What about the 8% though?
There are several passages in the Bible dealing with the theme of worry. One of my favourites, and a lovely one to remember is in 1 Peter 5:7 – Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Brilliant. Give all your troubles to God. He is big enough. He wants to take them from you. He cares for you so much he hates to see you hurting. Imagine taking the pain away from a child. What a wonderful image. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. We can offload our worries on to someone who truly cares.
Similar things are said in Psalm 55:22 – Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. God wants to take on himself the burdens we try and carry unnecessarily. Not only that, but he sustains us.
If your priority is material wellbeing, you will naturally worry about keeping it, extending it and maintaining that material status. There is no guarantee that you ever get to keep material wealth. You cannot trust materialism. Fashions come and go and new products emerge, so it is a hungry god. Economies rise and fall, so it is a fickle god. Friends judge you on your material status, so it is an attractive god. But it is a god of worry and anxiety. Prioritise personal worldly status and you will always have to attend that altar and live in a state of anxiety.
The opposite of, and antidote to worry is Trust.