Monday, April 11, 2011

The Worrisome Nature of Worry

Today I’m going to veer off my usual topics of happiness, organizing and simplicity and, as the illustrious Dr. Phil would say, “get real.” This is not to say that any previous posts are not “real,” but in the interest of wanting to be honest and forthright, I feel today needs to be different. Because I have been struggling the last few days.

You see, I am prone to fits of severe anxiety and worry.  Panic, even.  And the last few days have been a worry spiral for me. I am nearing my much desired maternity leave, after which it is my fervent desire to return to working outside the home on a reduced work schedule. This is not a definite—the only definite is that I will be returning to work at my current job at my current schedule of 40 hours a week. Those are the definites (and I will definitely be running around like a chicken with her head cut off since I’ll have a 3 year old and an infant to get out the door every day).
But it is the “indefinites” that are causing me worry and distress and have plunged me into an anxious, nearly depressed, funk for the past few days.  The what-ifs are burrowing their way into my brain and disrupting my vision of the future.
“What if you didn’t budget correctly and you CAN’T really afford to do this?”
“What if you can’t get a part-time schedule at your current employer? What if you then can’t find part-time employment that pays you what you need while giving you the schedule you desire?”
 “What if there is some unforeseen event that saps your entire emergency fund and still isn’t satiated?”
“What if you’re just being selfish in wanting to be home with your children more?”
 “What if you’re about to drive your family into the poorhouse?”
All these little insecurities and concerns and what-ifs that I have little to no control over right now are eating away at my happiness,  my sense of direction and my sense of progress. It makes me feel like any progress we’ve made is just a figment of my imagination and that we’re NOT doing as well as I think we are.
As a result, I spent the weekend teetering on the precipice of a panic attack, and I hate that feeling. Even as I type I feel that tightness in my chest which is indicative of my highly anxious state.
Yet, as my irrational brain goes haywire, my rational brain is trying desperately to right the ship, to remind me that I do have a job, that we’re doing fine and that if push comes to shove, I can work outside the home full-time for a little while longer.  And it keeps trying to remind me of the impotence of worry, or as Leo Buscaglia once said “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy. “ And sapping, it is.
So I keep reminding myself of the fruitlessness of worry and trying to direct my mind and spirit towards those things that I can control. For me, the number one place I turn in this type of situation is to God and to the Bible. I keep reminding myself of the following verses:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"  Matthew 6:25-27
"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  Matthew 6:34
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.”  Proverbs 3:5-6
And this brings me peace as I try to reflect on the idea of letting go and letting God handle the worry.  I have also found great solace in reflecting on some secular quotes about the fruitlessness of worry. Here are some of my favorites:
“Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination.” --Christian Nevell Bovee
“That the birds of worry and care fly over you head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.” --Chinese Proverb
“It only seems as if you are doing something when you're worrying.”  --Lucy Maud Montgomery
“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. “ --Swedish Proverb
“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen.  Keep in the sunlight.”  --Benjamin Franklin
I particularly like the first and last quotes. The first because what I am essentially doing in all this worry is letting go of what I’ve been striving for and allowing my imagination run rampant with scenarios of doom and gloom, which are robbing me of my contentment. The Ben Franklin quote I love because it taps into the fact that I am worrying about unknowable things right now. For all I know things will work out exactly as I am hoping and in 6-8 months I’ll be looking back at my fears and realizing how foolish they were.
But right now, they’re at the foreground of my every thought and are causing me to dread the quiet time where I’m alone with my thoughts. So I ask you, dear readers, how do you cope with worry and anxiety?


  1. Here is where I lean on my religion. During Mass, we recite the Lord's prayer. Near the end of the prayer, the priest stops the congregation and adds this little part:
    "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."
    Growing up, I never understood why we didn't go straight through the Lord's prayer. As I became an adult and especially as a parent, this part of the Mass has become the one I look forward to the most. When I get stressed about something I cannot control, I say just that part of the prayer. Maybe it will help you.
    It is hard to let go of things we cannot control; worry about things we think we have control of; panic over the big picture. In reality, we have no control over many of the things we worry about just over the worry itself.

  2. Elaine-- Thank you! That is definitely going up on my "inspiration" wall here at work. I like that little addition!

  3. This is a somewhat timely post for me, as I was just in the early stages of an "I'm depressed about having to work full time funk." :)
    It is kind of a relief to know that someone else spirals too (I even call them that and will warn Jake that I am "starting to spiral"). I'm sure our spirals are different in nature, but both destructive.
    I've come to realize that my spirals are a twisted self-indulgence, because somehow it feels good to make myself feel so bad. Once I'm able to recognize that I'm being very "me" centered, I start to feel a little like an ass. This is usually my start, then I go through a sort of list of reminders that help bring me back closer to normal. The general idea of the stuff I go through is: You've planned the best you can with the information you have and that is all you can do for now... things change and so do you... you are missing the now for the later... go do something productive (sometimes the productive thing is just reading a book because it takes me out of my own head)... nothing is ever exactly as you expect it to be, sometimes it is better, sometimes worse, but you deal with it when you get there... are you being the person/wife/mom you want to be right now?
    I also lean on Jake a lot to help me when I'm really sucked into it. His strategy is usually to get me to start doing something, almost anything that gets me physically involved will work, then I can't use all my energy running around in mental stress circles.
    Good luck and remember that part of your worry could be hormonal. I know that is a crappy thing to tell a pregnant woman, but while pregnant I couldn't see the forest for the hormones. I didn't think I was being overly emotional and stressed, but I really really was. Do what you can to prepare for the future you want, but then let it go and focus on the now because odds are you are missing something good by being so focused on the future.
    I have a strong faith that things will always turn out the way they are supposed to. It might not always be how I want it to be, but for some reason that is almost always OK by the time I get there.

  4. Shannon-- Like you, I'm lucky that D is my rock. He's like human Xanax for my anxiety! (Really, have you ever met someone MORE even keeled than my husband?) I also find that DOING something that takes all my focus is a great help. I had no symptoms of anxiety when we were out working so hard in our garden. Unfortunately, I the nature of my job allows the self-indulgence that is thinking about me and my lot.
    Thanks for the pep talk and the reminder that I am a walking hormone attack, which factors in. Add the exhaustion of not sleeping well b/c of the pregnancy, and I can see that a lot of this is biological!

  5. You took the words right out of my mouth! I too, meditate on these verses, but honestly I was born a worrier. I come from a long line of teeth-grinding, cuticle-picking, and over-prepared women.

  6. Hang in there! I'm sure your hormones are not helping. I've been worrying myself silly lately, though for different reasons, then I stop and remember the Lord may not provide my wants, but he certainly provides all my needs. May he comfort you and bring you peace.

  7. Thanks guys! I think some early bedtimes this week will definitely help my state of mind. While I don't wish this type of worry on anyone, it is nice to know I'm not alone. I hope you can all find peace in your anxious times!

  8. @Sue-- I have to ask how you found my blog... I noticed in your "blogs I follow" that you also follow my sister's blog (Welcome to the Knitosphere) & have ties to the LCMS church (I'm a CU grad), so I was curious. (if I know you in real life and am not making the connection, I apologize!)


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