Are we the only creatures on earth who are uniquely prone to worrying?
Worrying is the most natural and spontaneous of all human functions.
We fritter away our lives, fearing the future, disconnecting with our present, unable to undo our past, unable to sit still, because we worry. What have we done about it? Almost nothing.
Yet, “Life’s too short for worrying.”
“Yes, that’s what worries me.”
In this day and age we have mountains to worry about. It is a troubled word we live in. No sooner than we get a moment of safety, trouble hits.
Worrying has been described as an all-out attempt to engage in mental problems, for an issue whose outcome is uncertain. There may not even be an issue and everything is uncertain. But worry, we do, when instead we should take things as they come.
We all worry about world war III, but what can we do about it?
We think of all bad things that could happen and what to do if they occur. They seldom occur.
We worry about failure, disease, harm, divorce, drugs, accidents, none of which may never happen.
Winston Churchill, who had much to worry about, once said: “When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
Everyone worries at one time or another, but some worry all the time. They worry about imaginary problems, drawing up scenarios that do not exist and proceed to worry about them.
What a waste of precious time. Much like regret, there is little we can do about it.
It is best to join Edith Piaf and cry out, “Non, je ne regrette rien.” I regret nothing, because it is done, period. The past is past, what is the point of regretting. It is a wasted emotion. It has made us what we are. Hopefully, we have learned something, but most likely not, as man has throughout history, repeated himself: “and it will all be the same in a hundred years.”
Worry is a burden, especially when it is done excessively and without reasonable causes. We imagine worse case scenarios, they pre-occupy our minds. We waste time dealing with imaginary situations instead of enjoying life — instead of living.
The process is not only distracting and unhelpful, but can lead to a more serious condition such as anxiety, a clinical mental disorder.
Worry and anxiety are not the same thing. Anxiety is an automatic response to a perceived threat, an instinctive reaction when it is accompanied by physical changes such as muscle tension, increased heartbeats, (breathing rate and oxygen consumption) and a heightened focus on the perceived event.
On the other hand, worry is a thought process, not a physical one. It involves mere contemplation of bad things that could happen. Usually, they do not, therefore what is the use of worrying.
We should not cross bridges before we reach them. It simply causes us to embark on extended analyses, cogitation and search for resolutions for hypothetical conditions.
Some of us are natural worriers, or at least pre-disposed to worry, because it is a trait influenced by our genes and our experiences. This anxious disposition is likely to develop anxiety-related problems and may also be passed on to our children. If the parents are unpredictable, too critical or abusive, the children may also be more prone to anxiety.
The possibility that bad things can happen creates the illusion that they are happening. What benefit is there in anticipating unlikely negative scenarios? You go from one assumption to another, creating what psychologists call a catastrophe chain.
Trying to make sure to be safe all the time has major disadvantages. No situation is 100 per cent risk-free, some have very low risk. Be prepared when danger comes, but not the perception of danger. If you keep running away from things you fear, you may never get the chance to discover that your fears were unwarranted.
Imagine if your fear prevents children from a normal childhood. If you wish to protect yourself and your children, be more vigilant and give life a chance.
“Worry affects circulation, the heart and the glands, the whole nervous system and profoundly affects the heart,” said Charles Mayo (1865-1939) of the famous Mayo Clinic: “I have never known a man who died from overwork, but many who died from doubt.”
Indeed, if worrying sticks around too long you can develop blood pressure, a heart attack, or a stroke. While it is intended to protect us from fear, it can create fear by dwelling on things that will never happen.
Just let go. Worry robs you of your life.
Some may be familiar with a popular song, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Worry does interfere with happiness and our aim in life is to be happy.
Do not play the “what if” game, whether over past regrets or future fears. It is wasted time.
An old song written in 1912 by George Powell and his brother Felix became the Army Marching Song in WWI, for both sides, and is still popular to this day.
Its optimism is a lasting philosophy, which rings true then, now, and always.
“What’s the use of worrying. It never was worthwhile.”
So stop worrying. Live and be happy.
“My life has been full of misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
Michel de Montague (1533-1592)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.