“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”
– Swedish Proverb
I’m a worrier. A fussbudget, a worrywart, a busy-minded fatalist. I see the potential for hazard in almost every situation and the likelihood of something going wrong as if Murphy’s Law stood on par with Einstein’s and Newton’s work.
I worry about my children. I worry about the state of the world that I’ve brought them into. I worry if they’re learning enough, if they’re playing enough, if they’re independent enough and if they know that I am, and always will be, there for them?
I worry about my spouse. Is he happy enough with me, with us? Am I doing my part to nurture a contented and healthy relationship?
I worry about my parents and my siblings. I worry about my friends and if I’m a good enough companion to them.
I worry about my household, my garden, the state of my toilets, and the laundry that’s piling up on the bed. What we’re having for dinner and what all those lumps on my aging bassets are.
I worry about my writing (or the lack thereof). I worry that I don’t use my limited time well. I worry that I’ll never make ends meet financially; I worry that I’ll sell out.
I worry about my body, my age, my usefulness as a human being.
Worry. Worry. Worry. Small things, leading up to a room full of shadows.
Because worry makes up such a large percentage of my life, this month’s focus of “Worrying Less” is particularly hard for me. I hold myself to standards I would never hold someone else to. In fact, I get upset with friends and loved ones who are hard on themselves, who berate themselves for not going to the gym, or signing their kids up for twenty million activities to keep them on the competitive edge, or fulfilling their own career track, or keeping their crumbling marriages together. I tell them to be gentle to themselves. To not worry. They’re doing all right.
But I never afford myself the same condolence. I never treat myself so gently.
Why do I do that?
Because I know myself best perhaps and therefore feel that I should be able to be all of these things that seem so important in our pressurized world. After all, if I’m the one in control of my thoughts and actions, it’s my fault for the things that don’t happen as planned. My worry comes from unrealistic expectations I set for myself. Expectations that drive me into a shadowy and dark place where I lose self-worth, and pull the burdens of perfection across my shoulders like an impossibly heavy cloak. I’ll never be able to stand beneath it, and yet I strain and falter endlessly.
I want to let go of it. I want to throw it off, walk out of that useless place with nothing holding me hostage. But I’m a hard woman to fight with. (I have so many neurotic tendencies that I could open a jar-lined shop full of them.) My well-established, homegrown worry is rooted deep inside of me. And it’s virulent.
We are trained by our reptilian brains to see the potential for disaster so that we can take steps to avoid it. But sometimes our brains are so overwhelmed with worry that we shut down, unable to do anything but watch helplessly as the worries (often over expanded in our imaginations) begin to take over.
Like much in life, worry can eat away when left unchecked. But without it, we run the risk of staying stagnant or finding ourselves in an irreversible and often negative predicament that could have been avoided had we cared enough to prevent it. So where is the balance? Where is the fine line of worrying just enough, but not too much.
Perhaps I fear that without the worry, I will give up caring about things one by one until my choices and opportunities are slowly stripped away. But if I continue to worry over everything I’ll have nothing tangible left of myself (not to mention I’ll live a very stressful, un-enjoyably hard life).
Action is the only cure for worry. And prioritizing which worry is in need of action is the secret to finding a healthier balance.
As the Dalai Lama once wrote,
“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”
If we can do something about a situation, then we have power to take action and clear the worry from our plate. If a situation or worry is unfixable we need to let it go and give up worrying about the things that cannot be changed or those things that have no end-game in sight.
Not much in the course of a human life (let’s be optimistic and say 100 years) will matter once we are gone. The only things that do, are the things that carry on after us and especially those that are built through good and sustainable acts and practices, positive and encouraging words left behind, and the influential beliefs we pass on to the world.
What will matter when I’m gone is what I give to the world in my short time on this earth. I can give them two compassionate and loving people, who make their decisions and take action based on the beliefs that I instill in them. I can give the world my thoughts and my voice shouting out in the dark that I suffer and triumph in my humanity just like the rest of the world. That none of us is alone in this fight, or in our worries.
The root of worry is setting an up an unrealistic ideal of yourself and how you expect life to go. It is a “standard” that’s created by other’s accepted norms of what and who you should be. Delve deep. Look at who you want to be. Who you really want to be, and question why you want those things.
Are they for your health? For your happiness? Or for the pleasure and expectations of someone else? Try instead to live up to your potential. Worry about your happiness. Do things that move you forward and don’t worry about the days when you feel like you’re standing still. Standing still is important too. Its how you regroup, reevaluate, adjust your plan to match your true self.
Stop worrying about the things that don’t make you a happier individual. Stop worrying about the expectations of people who don’t know you. Stop worrying about the expectations of people who do know you.
Do your thing.
Be your truth.
Live according to the things that fulfill you, make you stronger, bring you joy. We are given so little time in this world, please don’t spend it running from the shadows of worry from all of things you aren’t, and start appreciating the bright, the wonderful, the messy and beautifully human things that you are.