When it comes to the landscape of my mind, worries grow like weeds. Ridding my thoughts of fear, doubt, or anxiety does not come easily for me.
I’ve always had a tendency to entertain worry. It was my first imaginary friend. When I was a child I worried about doing poorly in school (although, with the exception of sixth grade Latin, I was a consistently strong student). I worried about being left back in lower school. I worried about failing in middle and upper school. In college, I worried about appearing stupid or incompetent or (if I’m being honest) anything other than excellent.
My parents weren’t rich, so I worried about money. I didn’t worry about where we’d live, because I knew they owned their home outright, but I worried about how heavy the burden of paying for my private education (and that of my siblings) weighed on them. I worried that my parents were working too hard and not getting enough sleep. I worried about my father’s long hours and my mother’s mental disease.
All that to say: I worried a lot. I still do—even as I try not to. I worry about hurting myself or being hurt—especially when biking or playing volleyball. I worry about the health and happiness of my loved ones. I worry about what’s happening now and what will happen in the future—the state of America, the world, and humanity. I worry about whether I’ve offended someone or whether someone thinks less of me. I worry about making mistakes that will cost something. I worry with efficient regularity. It is my inner monologue’s most consistent theme.
Some worries are light and brief; they are easily dismissed—quickly floating away. Some worries take hours to resolve—so heavy the pressure of them keeps me awake.
Even though I know that most of my worries are fruitless, putting them aside—keeping them from overrunning their boundaries—is still a challenge for me. As someone who has had death catch her off guard more than once, sometimes worrying makes me feel better prepared—less likely to get sucker-punched by one of the harder fists of life. However, I’ve learned that most worry is just a hindrance to happiness. It is of little value, but demands great resources.
Think about it: Why worry? What can your worrying now accomplish for tomorrow? What can anxiety do for you today other than diminishing your joy? Sure, sometimes worry allows for contingency planning. It leaves you better prepared for a particular likelihood. But if your worry will not ameliorate the situation—if it is focused on something purely hypothetical and unlikely, if it can neither render you more prepared or likely to suffer less, then what is it’s value?
Put another way: Pretend you spend all of Monday worried about a far-fetched possible outcome or occurrence on Friday. Let’s say that all the worry you can muster will leave you no better equipped. Let’s say that you anticipate Friday with fear, but fear that will not diminish Friday’s suffering (should it even come to pass). Flash forward now to Friday. You have lost joy on Monday that you can’t recover; yet because of your worry, your Friday will still be no better. Even if what you worried about comes to pass, you have now suffered twice for it without that worry giving rise to any benefit.
However, if you’re worried it will rain on Friday and so you buy an umbrella on Monday and then go on with your day and week, that is worry put to good use. It is not indefinite worry—unbridled worry running amuck in multiple directions. Instead it is worry that has been focused on tangible steps and led to a reasonable and rational action.
Apply that to a more serious situation: A storm is coming, so you board up the windows and purchase provisions. Perhaps you even evacuate. But you don’t then sit in the basement wringing your hands over what you can’t control anyway.
Now imagine that (your preparations completed) you spend Monday hopeful about Friday. What a pleasant way to begin your week! What do you have to loose by entertaining hope? Whatever happens on Friday, Monday will have been a good day, and Friday will be no worse. True, should Friday bring disappointments or difficulties, there will be a fall from hope to displeasure or even despair. However, the reality of Friday’s hardship will be no more grave just because you harbored hope or happiness before then.
So even though it is much easier said or thought than done, I try to steer myself away from worry that offers nothing in return. I don’t want to be ruled or impeded by fear. Prudence and planning have value, but worry just for worry’s sake and left unchecked is a parasite of the present. If my worry can’t make tomorrow any better and is stealing joy from me today, then I want to set it down, show it my unburdened back, and walk away.