In 1988, Bobby McFerrin released the hit song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!” It’s a fun, happy-go-lucky song with a catchy beat. While there may be some wisdom in the lyrics of that song, the title seems a bit trite when you’re in the thick of trouble fretting about the outcome.
Worry is rarely about the present. Does that surprise you? Even when we’re wrestling with a challenge right now, it’s not the current issues that dominate our thoughts but the feared outcome that we dread. With worry we’re either anxious over an event in the past that we can no longer change; or we’re fretting about something that might possibly happen in the future—maybe. Both forms of worry require a tremendous amount of energy yet accomplish absolutely nothing worthwhile.
Intellectually, we recognize the futility of worry. Yet, we all participate in it. I don’t know anyone who’s immune to worry. And there’s no shortage of things about which we can worry!
But I do think we can minimize worry and curb its effects. Let’s look at some of the negative effects of worry.
- Preoccupies our mind like an unwanted tenant who won’t leave
- Dominates our thoughts
- Distracts us from what counts
- Requires a tremendous amount of energy
- Accomplishes nothing positive
- Focuses on the hypothetical
- Affects all we do
- Causes fear
- Pushes people away
- Damages relationships
- Taints our worldview
- Kills our motivation
- Sets us up as victims
- Stunts creativity
- Spawns negativity
- Causes sleeplessness
- Compromises our immune system
- Promotes physical illness
Wow! All that is something to worry about! (Just kidding!)
In all seriousness, worry is not something to mess around with. When we feel its gloom begin to settle over us like a fog, it’s time to take action!
In its essence, worry is simply an improper emotional response to what’s going on in our lives. Author Alan Loy McGinnis described worry as, “The misuse of the imagination.” A great way to do battle with worry is to replace it with other more appropriate and more positive responses to our situations.
Five Positive Responses
1. Happiness and joy.
Happiness and joy dispel worry, anxiety, and fear. To be happy or joyful are primarily choices of one’s will. Abraham Lincoln said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I think what he meant was that our happiness or joy are a choice and often a matter of perspective.
Worry is usually a self-focused perspective. Helen Keller, who was born blind and deaf, had every reason to worry and fret. And yet she overcame tremendous odds and became a successful writer and motivational speaker. She wrote, “I had no shoes and I complained until I met a man who had no feet.” By changing our perspective on things, our happiness becomes a choice. We choose happiness and joy over worry.
2. Peace of mind.
Peace of mind extinguishes the smoldering coals of worry. How do you cultivate peace of mind?
By practicing those things that you know bring peace to your life. If you’re a person of faith, pray and give your worries to God. Step away from your troubles and get out into nature. Go out and burn off some worry by running, hiking, biking, or some other exercise. Meet with a close friend for coffee and find out how they’re doing. Enjoy their company. For others, a positive distraction, like engaging in a hobby or craft, may help usher in peace.
We often underestimate the value of sleep or simply resting from work. In the comedy What About Bob? Bob decides to take a “vacation” from his worries. While we poke fun at Bob’s antics and nutty behavior, it is true that rest can give us a whole new perspective on life.
Get seven or more hours of sleep at night. Take at least one day per week in which you distance yourself from work to simply relax. Learn to read your own personal stress signals and take a break before you “break” under the weight of worry.
Often, we find ourselves worrying about things that ultimately don’t matter. I’m talking about peripheral niceties. A while ago, I spoke with two men who owned sailboats. One looked refreshed and relaxed for having spent the weekend sailing on a beautiful body of water. The other expressed great relief for having sold his sailboat that weekend because it had become a ball-and-chain around his life.
Contentment looks different for each person, but essentially it means stripping the banal and life-sucking elements out of your life and simplifying. What can you cut out of your routine right now that would make life simpler and help you be content?
An ancient Proverb says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Worry, left to grow and fester, can devolve into depression. And “depression is the inability to construct in your mind a hopeful future.” We all need hope. We long for a brighter future. We live for a better day. We work to see positive results.
Viktor Frankl survived a Nazi death camp during WWII. Later he wrote a book entitled, Man’s Search for Meaning. In that little book, he explains, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” The “why to live” of which he speaks is hope. When we have hope, we can endure almost anything.
Put your hope in something transcendent; something really worth hoping for and pursue it with all you’ve got!
Worry is a debilitating, self-destructive behavior. To ward off worry, replace it with healthy, productive mindsets like those above.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow,
it only saps today of its joy.”
– Leo Buscaglia
What fears or worry are you facing today and what best practices have you found to get through them? Leave us a comment below.