Worry – a Useless and Damaging Exercise

worriedOh how we love to worry!  My mother-in-law is a worrier.  Long into our adulthood, while we were leaving from a visit, which is just an hour away, she would routinely chide, “Be sure to ring and let me know when you get home, or I will worry.”  And I would think, now the burden is on me to remember to call or in her mind she will be envisioning some horrible car accident if too much time goes by and she doesn’t hear.

Now I know you’re thinking, it’s just her way of communication how much she cares.  And while I agree that it’s her way, still there are better ways to communicate caring.  Like the direct way of simply saying, “Love you!”, “Come again soon!”, “Really enjoy when you visit!”  Worry is not just a useless emotion, it can also hurt your good health.

Worry is useless because it can’t change anything bad that may happen.  If there is a car accident, your worrying about it has absolutely zero impact on whether it happens or doesn’t happen.  Perhaps you argue that worrying helps a person to be more careful.  I would counter that worry makes a person timid and afraid to try new things.  When self-worry turns into fear of living life fully, then worry is limiting and detrimental to quality of life.  Fear of failure is a big worry that many people have, which then gives them license not to try.

Don’t try – you’ll hurt yourself!  Be careful with those!  Watch out for danger!  Many children are raised with so many cautions, some indeed warranted, but helicopter parenting is not.  I’m not a worrier but one time my teenage son missed an after school dentist appointment, which was very out of character for him.  He was very responsible as a teen, had a jam packed schedule of activities, and never let the ball drop on anything, with nary a reminder needed.

So this one time, I did worry as the time grew later and later.  Within 3 hours I had him dead in a ditch – what else could possibly keep him from missing the appointment?   After I called the hospital, I actually had worked myself up enough to call the police to report him missing.  Naturally they humored me, hearing from off the handle parents all the time, and told me to wait 24 hours before he could be deemed officially a missing person.

I tried to say that they didn’t understand that MY son was different, not your average teenager and this situation was serious – he was that responsible.  I know now that they hear these cases all the time and are trained to say the right thing – which is not “worry is a useless emotion” – more like, “He’s a busy teenager, maybe he just forgot.”  Which was exactly what had happened, after which I chastised him with, “You had me so worried!”  Why is it always the forgetful but unintentional victim’s fault when we choose to make ourselves crazy with worry?

The reason that worry is detrimental to your health is because when we imagine the worse – that horrible accident with your baby in the ditch crying out for you and you can’t help – those deep emotions feel real to the brain and the body acts accordingly and goes into stress mode.  Prolonged stress from a lifetime of worrying can be very damaging to the body.  Useless worry with real health consequences from all that stress taxes the body needlessly, with no benefit.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Do yourself and your body a favor and shake off worry.  It seldom helps and can really hurt.  Worry is a mental habit that can be changed with practice; when a habit hurts health, it needs to go.  There is really no connection between degree of caring and amount of worry expended.  The Jamaican song lyric “Don’t worry – be happy” is very true since too much worrying is the antithesis of happiness! 

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