The realization that a goodly portion of the fears and tensions that bedevil us are self-induced is not a new psychological insight. This delicious, tongue-in-cheek nugget attributed to Mark Twain was penned more than a hundred years ago, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
Worry is a natural part of being human. It actually can be helpful. The cave man who worried there might be a Tyrannosaurus Rex around the bend took another path and survived for another day.
What is new is the current political and social environment that has made “worrying” a global contagion. And when worry becomes chronic it does harm rather than protect.
We cannot read a newspaper, watch television or surf the internet without being assaulted by unnerving turbulence that seemingly jeopardizes our jobs, families, our everyday way of life. It is natural to respond by “worrying” per the survival instinct in all of us. But it is so prevalent it is eating away at our sense of happiness; we can’t escape it. We sit down to dinner with a sense of dread over our shoulder… and that is not a companion that makes for a happy meal.
The danger in feeling so relentlessly jangled becomes evident when ordinary, everyday events become blown up to life or death situations. Obsessively worrying over everything is a side effect of the relentless assault of unsettling news be it ‘fake’ or accurate. Preoccupied with fending off lurking threats we get stuck in a negative loop powered by pessimism and insecurity.
So how do we escape from the quagmire?
Be mindful, particularly when you just can’t get your worries out of your mind. Simply sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Stay totally ‘in the present moment’ bringing your awareness to every detail of your surroundings. The idea is to observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad.
By detaching yourself from ‘the worries,’ you can observe them rather than be absorbed by them. You can determine if the dinosaur around the corner is real.
Finally, here is a whimsical suggestion: accept that worrying is just a normal part of life and that everyone does it. When you find yourself worrying obsessively, do your best Bobby McFerrin imitation and give yourself over to the wisdom of his affectionate lyrics,
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy.