A little backstory about how I learned to worry. My mother was an excellent worrier. It didn’t help that my father had a dangerous job when I was growing up. It was as if it was my mother’s second job to worry about the people she loved when they were out of sight. Aside from raising her own stress and cortisol levels, what did worrying accomplish? Perhaps it prompted her to issue extra cautions at each parting, but it also may have contributed to her heart attack. Many people mistake worry for a prophylactic, but it turns out to be more of a poison.
I recently read the phenomenal book, the Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. In the final chapter of the book De Becker points out some fallacies about worry which helped to reduce the time I spent worrying. He states: “Worry is the fear we manufacture – it is not authentic.” He then goes on to list some of the reasons people worry: to avoid change, to feel like we are doing something about something we feel powerless against, to have connection with others and as protection against future disappointment. One of his statements which I have had to mull over: “Pain and fear are necessary and valuable components of life. Suffering and worry are destructive and unnecessary components of life.” Whoa!
In the past I have married worry, fear and preparation. Pulling them apart and examining their separate functions was uncomfortable, but in the back of my mind it felt right. Worry has been a low grade buzzing in the back of my mind preventing me from getting too comfortable, it has been the penance I learned for loving someone or something. But as De Becker points out, worrying can interfere with your ability to perceive clear and present danger. For instance: if you are worried about a deer running in front of your car, you may not see the child bending over to pick up a toy in the road.
My relationship with fear has also been much changed after reading the Gift of Fear, it went from an emotion I associated with danger, to a guide for navigating dangerous situations. Preparation can be both mental and physical and has been the most productive way to address my concerns. In most cases, I am able to break down an issue which I worry about and think of anything I can do to improve my outcome and then scale down my worry. Worrying is stressful, and while it is common knowledge that stress is bad for your health, it is hard to put away the self imposed stress which we carry. But, it is safer and healthier to do so.