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Worry Can Be a Relentless Teacher

Lifting the lid on the worrying we do.

Key points

  • Everyone worries to some extent.
  • Worrying is something we do, not something that happens to us.
  • Our worries can teach us important things about ourselves.
  • Looking into our worries can reveal paths to contentment.
©onuchcha/123RF, Image ID: 162678671
Source: ©onuchcha/123RF, Image ID: 162678671

Worrying is part of the human condition. It’s one aspect of being human along with things like laughing and singing and whispering and crying and perspiring and gossiping and shopping and gardening and belching and studying and dreaming and cooking. Some people worry a little and some people worry a lot, but everyone worries. Some people are bothered by their worrying, and some people aren’t.

Worrying doesn’t just happen to us. It’s something we do. Although this might seem like a trivial point, it’s actually really, really important. Humans do things for reasons. We don’t ever do anything without there being a reason lurking somewhere in the background. Our reasons are who we are and why we are. If you want to reduce or stop worrying about something, the reasons are crucial.

Worrying can teach us a lot about ourselves. I’m currently worrying about a job interview I have coming up. I’m worried that I won’t do a good job communicating my strengths and abilities to the interviewers. The reason I’m worrying is because I really want to nail the interview. And the reason I want to nail the interview is because I want to get a job I like. And the reason I want a job I like is so I can provide well for my family. And the reason I want to provide for my family is because I want to be the best husband and dad I can be. And the reason I want to be a good husband and dad is because I want a strongly harmonious family.

When I lay it out like that, the worrying doesn’t seem so bad. Do I want to get rid of or otherwise change any of those reasons? Not really. I like performing well. I like having a good job. And I like the fact that my family is important to me.

The worrying I do and the things I worry about tell me about the person I am and the person I want to be. This is not to deny that worrying can be tremendously awful. It can consume our minds so that it seems like there’s no escape. In these situations, who wouldn’t want to ignore their worries as much as possible and do whatever they can to get a break from the torment that’s going on? Turning away from the worries seems to make complete sense.

As counterintuitive as it might be, relief from worrying can come from paying more, not less, attention to our worries. Imagine if you were sitting with a friend who was expressing out loud the worries that you currently have swirling about in your mind. Would you tell them to hush, or would you offer whatever you thought might be helpful? Amazingly, we can take the same approach with ourselves.

By paying attention to our worrying, we can discover that there’s a lot more going on than we realize. Sometimes it can take a while to tune into all that is happening. We are so used to talking, but not listening, to ourselves that we can miss important clues. Maybe there’s a wry smile or a shake of the head or a question like a “what if …” sort of a query. Perhaps there are fleeting comments like, “It’s all going to be OK. You’ve got through this before.” The point is, there will be something. In fact, there’s likely to be a bunch of things.

If you listen to your worrying, what is it telling you about the person you are? What is your worrying alerting you to? Is there something you’re missing that the worrying is nagging you about? Maybe there’s something you want to say or do that you’re holding yourself back from. Sometimes saying your worries out loud can make them easier to listen to. What comes into your mind when you hear your worries with your own ears?

Worrying is a sign that we have important things in our life that are not in the best shape they could be. Worrying indicates that we care about things. Can you identify what those things might be and the reasons they mean so much to you? How does your worrying seem now?

Rather than being a disruption to your life, is there any way you could embrace your worrying as another one of the habits you use to make your life the way you want it to be? Could you get even better at worrying?

Why worry? Because it’s part of who we are. It’s a consequence of being designed as error-correcting creatures who are compelled to keep things in balance. Worry can be a relentless irritant or a tireless teacher. May worrying help you find your paths to contentment and balance.

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