“Leave your worries for awhile. They’ll still be there when you get back.” –Unknown
We admittedly have many things about which to worry in today’s world. Much to our displeasure, Russia appears to be as big a problem as Mitt Romney predicted that it would be. The entire Middle East is a hot mess. North Korea is being run by a spoiled psychopath who thinks nothing of executing uncles, brothers and generals on a whim. China is a mysterious nation whose leaders probably should not be thoroughly trusted. Venezuela is on the verge of total collapse. Terrorists are afoot and we have little idea when the next attack will occur. It seems that we can’t even enjoy a plane ride without fear of being accosted by security guards wanting to forcefully take back our seats. It’s enough to drive those of us who have a natural propensity for overthinking to throw up our hands and just surrender to to our sometimes outrageous concerns.
I come from a long line of worrywarts. My grandfather often complained that my grandmother never quite knew how to relax. She was almost always concerned that some bad thing or another might happen. She wondered if a drought would ruin the crops that they had grown or if a deluge would drown them. She fretted over whether they would have enough money to stay afloat in their old age or how someone she loved might get hurt. She had already lost her first husband and two children to disease. When her only son, my dad, was killed in a car accident it convinced her that we all live on a dangerous precipice filled with harmful possibilities. Instead of simply enjoying her days on her farm in Arkansas she stewed virtually all of the time. I suppose that in some ways it was a habit that was part of her DNA as a woman. We ladies tend to be sometimes overly anxious about those that we love.
I remember watching my sick children in the middle of the night and staying up until my teenage girls came home from their dates. They chided me and complained that I didn’t trust them, but it was the big bad world that gave me pause, not them. I knew that there were hundreds of different dangers that they might encounter. I was never able to rest until they were safely at home in my care. Of course every mom must eventually give her babies wings to leave the nest. It is the way things must be, but it is never a comfortable thought, especially when they are far away from home. Over time I learned how to let them go and maintain a faith that all would be well, but even to this very day they are never far from my mind. Over time I’ve added thoughts of my grandchildren to the daily list of my concerns, along with former students, friends and the members of my extended family. Obviously I would be unable to operate in a normal world if I were to become too engrossed in dire predictions about all of these souls. Instead I have learned how to let go of obsessive concerns about people and situations over which I have no real control.
The only person over whom I have total power is myself. I can be the same or I can change. I am free to make choices all day long and mostly I choose to be optimistic and happy. When I am in situations over which I have no influence, the only thing that I might do is decide how I will react. I have learned the art of allowing adequate time for venting anger and for grieving over loss, but not so much that it overwhelms me. Eventually I purposely leave my worries for awhile. Even if they are still around when I return I find that I am better equipped to deal with them.
Sometimes work is the best tonic for anxiety. Other times the situation calls for a vacation from routine. We can’t really run away from our troubles but taking a break from them provides us with an opportunity to clear our heads of the cobwebs of negativity that often coexist with worry. Once we are feeling better it is amazing how much sharper our problem solving skills become. We find ways to deal with whatever has been bothering us and take the needed steps to rehabilitate ourselves.
I have found that a small amount of worry keeps us safe and on track. It is in habitual overthinking that we become lost and confused. It steals our happiness and deprives us of sleep and laughter, both necessary components of a healthy life. We need to learn what works best to chase away the noisy thoughts that crowd into our brains, keeping us from feeling joy.
I have found that exercise is one of the best medicines going. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just a walk in the neighborhood is often enough to clear the head. Sometimes silence is just what the doctor ordered, becoming so relaxed that we are literally as one with our breathing and the beating of our hearts. If we practice we can reach a state of total tranquility.
I rely on my faith in times of trouble and find comfort in reading scripture and devotionals. Silent prayers bring me much needed peace as well, but I understand that many do not have religious beliefs. There are still lovely books with reflections that teach us how to find our own inner strengths. Many of them help guide us out of our preoccupation with a crazy world that seems intent on driving us to distraction.
Having dealt with my mother’s mental illness I understand that sometimes worry becomes so all consuming that nothing seems to chase it away. There are indeed times when seeking the help of professionals is the wisest thing to do. There is nothing wrong with admitting that we need medical assistance now and again. There are therapies and drugs that are sometimes the best answer for unrelenting anxieties and obsessions.
If I have learned nothing else in almost seventy decades, it is to be very good to myself and to do whatever I need to keep myself feeling happy. Then and only then will I be of any worth to everyone else. I try to mostly surround myself with positive people and thoughts. I walk away from negative situations and individuals that I cannot change. Of course I still worry just as we all do, but I try not to allow my troublesome thoughts to overtake me. When I realize that they are becoming the central focus of my days and nights I do what I can to fix the situations from whence they came and then I do my best to move on.
Yes, the world is filled with worrisome situations but most of the time we never encounter them, so why needlessly expend our energy stewing over what might be or what is already past? Instead of listening to the voices that cause us to fret, we need to make room for the sounds that make us smile, like the laughter of children, the rain on our windows or the voices of the people that we love.