I thought I had kicked the habit of worrying, or at least reined it in. But with all that is going on in the world, I am not so sure anymore. If I am not thinking incessantly about terrorism, war and tragic fires, I focus on loss that hits closer to home.
Recently, in the small community where I grew up, at least four people died in the space of a week. That's hard news to swallow, begging the question that I remember asking repeatedly as a young woman in the late '80s, early '90s: Is the world getting worse, or am I simply becoming more aware of tragedies, atrocities, people dying, etc.? Regardless, I am worrying again.
Not long ago, when I found myself lying awake for most of the night imagining every possible dark scenario about a sudden pain I had, I knew I had digressed.
The next day when an acquaintance asked, 'How are you doing?' and I answered, 'I'm worried about my health', I knew that I had reverted to being a worrywart. Immediately I tried to change the subject, having done everything under the sun over the years to stop worrying excessively, including reading book after book and, of course, praying.
After all, Jesus points out in Matthew's Gospel that worrying is futile: 'Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own' (Matt. 6: 34).
And if that is not convincing enough, some experts believe that 85 per cent of what we worry about never happens. And the percentage that does happen is far less stressful than we could ever have imagined. Seventy-nine per cent of those surveyed were either able to handle the matter or learned a lesson from it. Go figure ... we cope.
Worse yet, worry does not improve the situation. It does just the opposite, often leading to anxiety, which can cause mental and physical health problems. Who needs worry? None of us, right?
Actually, there are times when it's more natural to worry than not to, such as when a loved one is ill, or you don't know where your next meal is coming from. It is when it is exacerbated that it becomes problematic.
According to Will van der Hart and Rob Waller, authors of The Worry Book, worry is a normal human emotion and has a protective function that often helps us to avoid danger, and prods us to make suitable arrangements for the future. I can relate to that. Admittedly, it was worry that urged me to make a doctor's appointment to check out the pain mentioned above, even though I did continue to worry.
But determined to kick the worry habit yet again, I consulted The Worry Book and was reminded that first and foremost, it is important to understand excessive worrying for what it is: a process of thinking that likely started in childhood.
According to the authors, there might be a genetic component. Ah ha! My maternal grandmother worried continually about any- and everything, and so did my mother. So often I heard my father say to my mother, 'Don't worry!' And nowadays, my husband says those very words to me.
But not everyone inherits worry; some people are simply deep thinkers, pre-disposed to the process that sometimes becomes obsessive.
In any case, it is the process that needs to be considered. The authors point out that worries tend to have some common themes. Ah ha, again. There is something about uncertainty and insecurity that gets me worrying.
Next, worry uses tricks to exacerbate the process. In my case, I am always consulting the Internet when concerned about something. After all, I'm a journalist; I know how to research and discern between good and bad information, don't I?
Another theme is that worriers often have subconscious beliefs about their worries. For example, worrying assures me that at least I care. Seriously!
So what else can we worriers do to kick the obsessive habit? Van der Hart and Waller say, overcoming the problem can be achieved by understanding what type of worry it is. They identify two main types of worry: 1) Solvable Worry; and 2) Floating Worry. Yes, you guessed it. A Solvable Worry has a solution: I can go to the doctor and check out my pain instead of trying to diagnose it myself over the Internet.
But Floating Worrying opens up the 'What if ...?' game. Oh how I love that little book If (Questions for the Game of Life) that a friend's father gave as a gift many years ago. But when that little, innocuous question is applied to a health scare, for instance, the game can become dangerous, even if it is an imaginary danger.
The problem is that the subconscious cannot differentiate accurately between a real and an imagined experience, according to Jimmy Henderson, in his book How to Interpret Dreams. That is bad news for worriers. But the good news is that everything imagined is unlikely to happen.
That's a relief! Thank goodness I don't have to worry about that anymore, so I can spend more time focusing on the problems that I can probably solve.