Sep 172017 0 Responses

The Triple-Whammy of Worry

There are times where I go to sleep and my phone’s battery has over 50% of its charge, but I wake up and it’s nearly dead. I’m not sleep-phoning. My kids aren’t sneaking into my room and watching Netflix on it. It looks as though the phone is off. But it’s not. Some app, somewhere, is running. While the phone appears unused, the battery is slowly draining while I sleep.

Fight or Flight

The animal kingdom has a tremendous self-protection mechanism known as fight or flight. Animals can scan the horizon, perceive threats, and make the decision to either use force against the threat or to escape. Humanity not only possesses this mechanism, but we add to it a more complex brain that empowers us to predict possible threats before any evidence is present. We can anticipate problems before they ever occur.

It’s a blessing. But when that system goes into overdrive, it’s a curse. While it’s a great gift to be able to predict possible problems and to mitigate them before they even present themselves, the negative side of our complex minds wedded with the fight or flight mechanism is that we can spend considerable amounts of energy on problems that will never exist. The threats are never actualized but the mental, physical, and emotional wear of being in a state of heightened alert take a serious toll.

Worry has an often unknown secondary definition. Its primary use connotes a concept of anxiety, but the secondary definition comes from the animal kingdom. A dog might worry a bone. In so doing, it continually gnaws at it. A predatory animal might worry its prey. After killing the animal, it ravages the carcass for every nutrient. Worry is rooted in the German meaning to strangle. The way an animal would wrap its mouth around its prey’s neck and suffocate it, so too, worry does the same process. However, when we worry, we aren’t the dog. We aren’t the predator. When we worry, we are the prey. It’s our neck that is being strangled.

The Triple-Whammy

Worry is not productive. Rather than contributing to society or ourselves, it drains us while preventing us from assisting others. Worry has three unforeseen negative consequences:

1. Worry is wearisome. We don’t understand the eroding effect worry has on us. Worry feels like work. It’s not, but our hearts, bodies, and minds cannot tell the difference. Worry contains all the exhausting effects of true labor, but none of the results. So worry exhausts us not only because it demands energy from us, but also because it does not replenish us like a job well done often does. And it never ends. A real job begins and ends. We know when the work is finished. With worry, the work continues without ceasing.

2. Worry is a diversion. Since worry feels like work, it deceives us into thinking we have engaged the world around us. However, because worry doesn’t produce results or influence circumstances in a positive way, it is a useless practice which paralyzes us. We think we are working but we aren’t. We believe we are making progress on an issue, but we are actually stunting advancement. Worry distracts us from the work that would actually make a difference. While worry is a form of apathy, it’s an unknown condition by its sufferer.

3. Worry splinters relationships. Worry, especially when directed toward other people, feels like love (consider a worried old grandmother who wants nothing but the best for her grandchildren), but it isn’t. While love acts in a way that is in the best interest of another person, worry acts in a way that is in the best interest (most comfortable) of ourselves. Worry is actually self-love masquerading as love for others. This hypocritical nature of love will be felt by others. They will sense our desire to control, manipulate, and protect. This creates tension in relationships. Ironically, a worrier will often be confused why their actions are hindering true intimacy. They might think, “I just love too much,” while never realizing it’s their lack of love causing problems.

3 Alternatives to Worry

Worry is useless. Yet just knowing it’s unproductive doesn’t make it easier not to worry. The way to stop bad actions is not focusing on stopping; it’s to replace the unproductive behavior with productive actions. Instead of worrying, do these things:

1. Don’t Worry, Weigh. When it comes to decisions, instead of worrying about them, we should weigh them. Worrying is to focus on what might happen and fixate on what we don’t control. Instead, we should weigh what we don’t know against what we do know. We should focus on the things we control, attempt to make the best decisions we can, and move forward. To weigh a decision is to consider actionable steps we can take in light of what is before us. To worry about a decision is to contemplate everything that could go wrong. Weigh decisions, don’t worry about them.

2. Don’t Worry, Work. Consider actions that will actually make a difference. Worry is often the result of pent-up energy. We were created to work. If we do not use that energy in a productive way, we will use it in an unproductive way. When you feel yourself worrying, find a way to work. Use your energy in a productive manner which is making a tangible difference in your life or someone else’s.

3. Don’t Worry, Wait. Recognize the things you don’t control and make a conscious decision to wait until those things work themselves out. This includes trusting others to make the choices that only they can make. By recognizing that you are waiting, you can remind yourself there is no need to spend mental energy on the topic. When you start to worry, you can remember you’re waiting.

The triple-whammy of worry should be avoided. Rather than investing energy in something that produces nothing useful, focus your efforts on those things that can produce.

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