Overcoming Worry

“You can destroy your now by worrying about tomorrow.” – Janis Joplin

When I was a kid my paternal grandmother was one of my favorite people. She loved to play games, was obsessed with them, even, so time at her house meant time spent locked in mortal combat over Monopoly, Sorry!, Boggle, Upwords and pretty much any card game ever conceived. When we weren’t playing games we were watching the plethora of gameshows that dominated daytime TV in the 70’s and 80’s. That time with Gramma Ingram taught me to be resilient, competitive, and determined. It improved my vocabulary immeasurably because she knew every word in the dictionary and wielded them as weapons in word games. It also showed me what it was like to be completely consumed by worry.

Gramma was a persistent worrier, from what the neighbors across the street were doing to how many women Richard Dawson kissed on Family Feud, she found a never-ending stream of things to rob her of her peace. As she got older it got worse, until eventually worry turned into paranoia and made her last few years very hard to live through. The sharp, focused, loving grandmother I knew became a dementia-riddled, confused and miserable mess.

This is the third in a series looking at the Six Medicines of Bodhichristo, and while the pervious two took me back to lessons I learned long ago from Yoda the Jedi Master, this one is grounded in the real world. The reason I have had the success I have had in overcoming worry is, quite simply, the example set by my dad, Roger Ingram.

“There are always three choices,” he has told me so many times that the words ring in my ears whenever I find myself worrying about something. “You can accept the situation; you can change it; you can walk away. Make your choice and be at peace with it.”

Worrying, in my view, is an addiction just as surely as alcoholism and drug abuse are addictions. It’s an addiction of the mind, so much so that we often spend time worrying about things we have zero control over. A great example is the recent US presidential election. Thanks in no small part to the obsessive media coverage, which seemed to start before the last election was even over, I found myself worrying a great deal about the outcome. Human rights, race relations, the economy and the environment were just a few of the things that hung in the balance, and for a while it was all I could do to figure out which thing to worry about next.

Then I stopped. I turned off the media, blocked news about it on social media, blocked the relevant terms in my Google news feed, “snoozed” friends who couldn’t talk about anything else and just let it go. There was only one thing I could really do about it, I voted on the very first day of early voting, and then sat back until the morning after the election. I didn’t follow polls, didn’t watch the news, didn’t engage in (many) conversations about what might or might not happen. I cast my vote and was at peace with it.

At least in my grandmother’s time there was very little media saturation of our culture. The news came on a couple of times a day, the broadcasts were held to a very high standard – especially with regard to accuracy – and then you went on about your day. Now the media has become a 24-hour beast that must be fed minute by minute, and to do that they have to keep us pumped up with sensationalized accounts of whatever the latest “disaster” is, and we are all too willing to reward them with clicks, shares and retweets.

I recently read a book entitled The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, and it really resonated with me. In many ways it reinforced conclusions I had already come to, but it also have me more food for thought. Why do we allow the media, social or otherwise, to determine our daily mindset? Why give them such power? Why not just turn them off? Will the world come to an end? No – in fact, you might actually rediscover what a wondrous place the world is.

People are generally kind, the world is filled with marvelous wonders to visit (even if you only visit them with David Attenborough on Netflix), and there are probably friends you haven’t called or visited who would enjoy a visit (not text, message, or meme, but real-time). When was the last time you took a walk and just breathed in the trees, grass, flowers, and the life around you?

Try it! It’s therapeutic!

When you feel worry threatening to rob you of your peace, stop. What are you worrying about? Is it something you can change? If so, take the steps necessary to change it and be at peace with your efforts. If it’s something you can’t change, can you accept it for what it is? If so, do so. If not, it’s time to walk away and leave it behind.

There simply are no other possible responses.

When you worry you tend to become anxious, you probably don’t sleep, and you permeate a general energy of unease that will negatively effect your own health and that of those close to you. It leads to stress, and stress is literally a killer. Find ways to channel that energy somewhere else, perhaps with daily meditation, yoga, or even just the simple act of taking a walk while listening to your favorite music. Huey Lewis and the News will usually do it for me.

Don’t allow things you can’t control to disrupt the things that matter most in your life.



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