We like to go to war on things we think are wrong or bad; the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war against crime. We need to have a war on worry because worry is wrong and bad;. It is one of the most common debilitating thought processes in which we engage, often daily. Let’s win the war on worry!
What is worry?
The word itself originates from the Old English ‘wyrgan’ which meant ‘to strangle.’ By the time Middle English was dominant, the word had morphed to ‘worien’ and meant ‘to grasp by the throat with the teeth and lacerate’ or ‘to kill or injure by biting and shaking’ which is how wolves would attack sheep. By the time of early Modern English, around the 16th century, the term had again morphed to ‘worry’ and meant ‘to harass, as by rough treatment or attack’ or ‘assault verbally’ and another hundred years later the meaning had shifted a bit and became ‘to bother, distress, or persecute’ and today the word worry is generally meant to mean ‘to cause to feel anxious or distressed’ or ‘to feel troubled or uneasy.’ It is quite a journey from ‘to strangle’ to ‘feel anxious or distressed.’ And yet, most people would agree that feeling anxious or distressed is not unlike being strangled. The question is, of course, who is doing the strangling?
More often than not, we worry when we ourselves are strangling ourselves. We do this with our own internal dialogue, often called ‘self-talk.’ Self-talk is that subtle, on-going subconscious flow of words and imagery which is the basis of our moods, and behaviors. You can imagine the worry you would experience if you were telling yourself that tomorrow you might get fired from your job, or you might fail a test, or you might have to confront a person about a conflict. There are any number of ‘might’ scenarios we could worry about most of which don’t come to pass. And yet, when worrying, we are in distress, and that distress is not just psychological but biochemical as well. When we imagine worrisome scenarios, bodily chemistry, especially neurotransmitters in the brain, change. Pharmaceutical medications attempt to counter this chemical change back to normal, but not without side effects. The easiest and safest way to counter worry chemicals in the bloodstream is to imagine positive experience, positive outcomes, pleasant scenarios. Because the future is unknown for certain, and because we are endowed with creative imagination, it is well within our capacity to generate happy chemicals as well as worry chemicals.
In our western culture, the word worry has come to be associated, or maybe even equivalent to, ‘responsibility.’ That is, if we didn’t worry about something, we would not be a responsible person, because responsible people are concerned about others, situations, problems, conflicts….Worry becomes associated with concern, which is associated with responsibility. Who worries about things they are not concerned about? If you were unconcerned about your money, your car, your job, your relationships, there would be no worry. But, we are concerned; very concerned. We are responsible, and so we worry.
But, what if to be responsible really means to be response-able. That is, able to respond, not to react in limited ways from decades of socialization; to have, like a player of chess, several options available to us as a response. Then, we are response-able. And, being response-able, we are more capable of dealing with any number of unexpected, even unpleasant, challenges that may come our way. We are more adaptable, more flexible, more resourceful; we are less strangled; and then, we don’t worry; we win the war on worry.
Mental health counseling is one way to develop better ways of being response-able, and learning to worry less, enjoy more….