Worry is probably the most common thought process that almost every single human being has experienced, is currently living with or trying to overcome. Almost every person I know worries about something, will I ever meet the man/woman of my dreams? Will my dreams come true? Will I be rich? Will I stay rich? Am I going to get pregnant? Am I sick? What if I fail? What if I get embarrassed? Will I lose my job? Do I have enough Facebook likes? or followers on social media?
Day and night our minds chatter mindlessly (most of the time) over and over again in our heads, and we have almost become so accustomed to the thoughts we have that we never really stop to question (a) how we came to have such thoughts? And (b) does running this kind of thought serve me in any way?
For the most part, we do believe that on some intrinsic level every thought we have, especially those that we repeat in our minds do serve us in some way to have them, because if they didn’t then there wouldn’t be such an incentive to have them. Everything we do, think and feel is in some way an entrenched behaviour that we have learned over time because we have at some point either copied it from someone else or believe it to be of value to us. For instance, a person who worries incessantly about their children’s welfare may argue that this is a good quality as it serves their parental instincts to protect their children, and it was how their parents cared for them. However, when a certain thought moves from being one that is developed to protect ones offspring to causing the effect of behaviour that is overbearing, extreme and have negative consequences to both the worrier and the subject of worry.
Recently I found myself overwhelmed with worry about my declining health on life support treatment and worry about whether my relationship will withstand the burden and difficulty of chronic and potentially terminal illness. My worry about this matter become so intense that I found myself pushing my partner away for fear of myself developing any further attachment to the desire of being in a relationship. I found myself falling into a dark depression, my blood pressure became increasingly high and on some occasions became out of breath due to a mild anxiety attack. My worry had gone from serving that part of me that felt I needed to prepare myself for tragedy and heartbreak to destroying my life, relationship and my health.
One day I woke up to another intense panic attack from my worrying, and I could not take it anymore. Out of sheer frustration I shouted to myself “STOP WORRYING!”. I was just so fed up with the unbearable emotions that would circulate in my mind from worry that I literally told myself to stop. In that moment I realised something, my problem was completely my own making. There is actually nothing wrong with my life as it is, my relationship is still stronger than ever, my health is reasonably well considering I am still on life support. But my concerns lie in dwelling upon the what ifs. Then it occurred to me, I have never been able to avoid some of the worst tragedies in my life by worrying about them beforehand. In fact, the things I worried about never actually eventuated in my life, and the worst things that have happened to me I never had the foresight to worry about.
This realisation was still not enough to alleviate my worries completely, and I went one step further. What if I were to face my worries head on, take them by the horns, so to speak, and hold on to see what happens?
So I imagined my deepest darkest fear of what could go wrong, losing my partner, watching him walk away from me because he can no longer deal with my illness. I let myself live that experience in my mind, the agony of watching him pack his things, tell me he no longer loved me, and walk away. I allowed myself to feel the pain and loneliness of losing him and then I let myself be okay with that pain. I realised even after enduring the pain of losing him I was somehow all right. I began to feel comfortable with the pain. Soon I experienced a sensation that is very unfamiliar to myself, I felt a profound sense of gratitude for my life and all I have, and a feeling of total freedom came over me. It was like that burden of keeping that worry was released. Once I faced my worst nightmare, I became acquainted with the pain I so desperately tried to avoid through the idea of worry, and was able to thoroughly appreciate and feel gratitude for what I have right now, as my focus shifted from what if? to what I have now.
After my experience I realised that I harboured a misbelief that if I worried enough about something I may in some way avoid, soften or prevent the pain from being as painful. However, what I sought to avoid was an act of resistance, and what I resist gains greater potency and power because I place too much focus and pressure against it. If I embrace that which I worry about and transform it from my thoughts, I will give myself the liberty of mind to really live.