Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not the end of the world

This is one of those times in life where a lot is going on, and life seems to be moving in a very positive direction. Yet instead of feeling great about this, I find myself anxious. It's coming and going, I'm not consumed with worry, but that it is coming at all is a source of great irritation.

The subject is pretty much unbloggable at this stage. But as with anything worth bothering with there are lots of uncertainties. Worse case scenarios are scary, but very unlikely. Up from the bottom, there are scenarios which could be very stressful, but remain unlikely. However, this is a risk we've decided to take because if all works out (most likely scenario), it should be very good. Obfuscation is making this sound terribly exciting – it's really not, at least not for anyone else.

I hate worrying. I hate that about myself. For I am, alas, one of nature's worriers and in recent years I've worked very hard at suppressing this tendency. All the nonsense I used to worry about still occurs to me, but I have learnt to close that book and move on. To some extent.

The thing I hate most about worrying is the possibility of wasting time. My maternal grandmother is in her eighties now, but has wasted an enormous proportion of her life to upset and worry. Probably the greatest and most ironic source of her anxiety is illness and death. Even now, when one might have thought she had triumphed over those two spectres as much as a person might hope to, she worries terribly about diseases she might acquire, about vague symptoms which she fears may indicate something sinister.

I wouldn't suggest that older people should not worry about their health, but one imagines that age brings significant perspective; at eighty-something, you're lucky to be around at all and you're even luckier if you're mobile and independent. George Bernard Shaw got to ninety-four and died of kidney failure; he damaged his kidney when he fell out of a tree. Now that's the spirit!

It is the greatest waste of time worrying about one's health. If it is worth worrying about, it is worth making a doctor's appointment and waiting to hear what an expert things. If it is going to get worse, then you are wasting the time you have now when things are not too bad. Even if you are going to die soon, then you are wasting the time you have now when you are alive and blissfully ignorant of your impending demise. I mean, it's not as simple as that if you really are going to die, but I mean during the stage when it is merely a persistent cough, a curious lump, a steady loss of blood from the jugular vein or whatever.

The same applies to all Bad Things Which Could Happen. Say the unbloggables go wrong and disaster strikes in a few months time. Well, everything is okay now. And of course, everything may continue to be okay and I will have wasted all this okay time. Because Bad Things are going to happen in life. Jobs are lost, marriages fail, hopes are dashed and people die – often with poor timing. However, these things are relatively rare in the course of life. Hopefully, there are periods of years where none of these things occur to us as individuals.

Often the things we worry about are Super Bad Terrible Things which hardly ever happen to anyone, or perhaps haven't ever happened yet. I don't know whether anyone was actually worried about the end of the world happening yesterday, but people do worry about that stuff, as Jack wrote about earlier in the week. Human beings will not go on forever, but it is unlikely that we will be destroyed by a single whoosh!, or indeed a bang! and almost certainly not a pertwang!. There are far less dramatic and more preventable disasters we should concern ourselves with.

So anyway, although this post is being written largely in an attempt to reason with myself, I shall nevertheless provide my five top tips for coping with a worrisome mind:

1. Accept that despite all the logic, your mind will be troubled by this stuff from time to time. This is natural and can't be resisted – any more than we can stop farting. But much of the time, that's all it is; sometimes there is a problem that needs wrestling with, often it is just an emotional waste product.

2. Worrying a lot about unlikely or fanciful events is usually symptomatic of some other problem. It is important to make a conscious effort to look after oneself, address sources of stress, watch our diet, exercise and sleep.

3. A cliched but nevertheless excellent test - and sometime cure - for worries is to write it down or tell someone about it. Often the mere thought of sharing this thought with someone else forces one to realise how silly it is and thus cure it. If not, putting it down in words or talking it over can often do the trick.

4. Keep a list of the most important things in your life. These may include people, your job and past-times, aspects of yourself and your life which make it worthwhile. Most of the things I worry about have very limited bearing on any of the items on my list. When I consider this fact and concentrate briefly on the many good things I have going for me, I gain a lot of perspective.

5. Schedule a time to worry. This is a trick which I find very useful. If you find yourself anxious a lot, decide that you shall give your worries your full attention at a certain time of day, for at least ten or fifteen minutes. Decide what time that'll be, use the same time every day and stop everything else for that period. Almost always, I find those worries that haven't fizzled out in the mean time can be reasoned with and resolved quite painlessly.


D Phoenix said...

It does sound ominous, what you're referring to. Hope all goes well.

Excellent list. There's a good balance of understanding--that worrying happens (worrying about worrying just really gets it going) and one should give a bit of gentle space over to ones worries--and pragmatism--getting support and using techniques to help reason win over. I'm quite the worrier and I deal with a lot of non-specific anxiety, so I hear you! I also find that trying to really be in the moment can help. THIS is the time I have and I try to focus more narrowly when I feel overwhelmed by worry. Times of big anxiety will find me focusing on tea time and no further or this time gardening and no other moment past that. The Zen of Anxiety.

Gone Fishing said...

I am old.

Have been subjected to Years of "worryin times, Oh yea!"
So can now pass on, through the Wisdumb of Old Age,
That eventually in hindsight, even the most worrying of times always has its humerous moments in times of reflection.


When young I always used to say when all else fails PANIC!

Then I used the excuse I am only on earth to create worry for other people

Now I simply smile, and say I am too old to worry let someone else do it for me.

Such a difficult old fart that I be.

Never worry just hang on for the ride and hope for the best.

Optistatic said...

I read the first bit of the post and thought 'Ooh - exciting - is she going to get married?' Then I thought 'No, probably not.'

Worrying is only useful when it actually makes you do something about the thing that is worrying you. Apart from that, it is a waste of time. I have a rule that I am not allowed to worry unless I then take action. That works, erm, really well...

I hope your thing goes well!

Mary said...

I quite enjoyed the 'end of the world' news stories, because every time I see one I can't help but think, if the world did end tomorrow, did I do okay? I mean obviously I wouldn't be in a position to have any regrets after being vapourised, but, you know, would I be finishing on a reasonably high note? And the answer was yes.

Anonymous said...

Dear Goldfish,

What a lovely helpful post.
I once read a quote that was someone's epitaph (sorry, forgotten whose) but I could really relate to it:

"My life has been full of tragedy, most of which never happened."

Good luck with the unbloggables!

PS. Abi, she did get married.
PPS. I wish I didn't fart so much!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I too am a worrier and totally relate!

Dragonsally said...

Yes indeed, and excellent post. I really like the idea of setting aside a time to worry, if worry you must. I'm going to use that one.

seahorse said...

That was one to print out and keep, so I have. Do you know you almost have enough for a Goldfish Guide book? The Goldfish Guide to Life's Little Irritations and Major Annoyances perhaps?