Worrywart: a person who worries too much, who worries about things that are not important, or a person who is inclined to worry unduly.
~ Merriam Webster Dictionary
Imagine going to a bank to take out a loan to pay a debt that you are unsure will ever come. Doesn’t seem like a sensible thing to do, and yet countless people do it every day. If not literally, certainly metaphorically. You see, this is precisely what people do when they exert great energy into worrying about what they believe will happen down the road. Never mind that this futile exercise will not change the outcome, one way or the other. Truth be told, the act of worrying does more damage than good, especially to the person doing the worrying.
Corrie ten Boom, a Christian Dutch woman, who helped save hundreds of Jewish lives during the Holocaust and was herself imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II put it this way, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Obviously, she made use of this wisdom in her own life—she survived to author books about this experience and continue her humanitarian work.
Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. More often than not, the imagined future is far worse than the eventual reality. Thomas Jefferson rightly sized up worry by asking the question, “How much pain have cost us the evils that have never happened?” We will never know the answer to this question, but we can guess that it is immense, particularly in today’s fast-paced, high-stress world in which so many seem void of the tools necessary to cope.
So why do people do worry? Why is there so much anxiety in the world today? The answer can be found at the root of worry and anxiety – fear. People fear the unknown, particularly if they are unsure that they will be able to handle what the future brings. While it is certainly natural and even responsible to be concerned about life’s eventualities, there is a huge difference between worry and concern. A worried person sees a problem, while a concerned person solves it. For the concerned person, advance worrying becomes advance thinking and planning.
Fear is the opposite of faith. It’s the flip side of the coin, so to speak. The two cannot exist together. Either you have faith to believe that all will be well in the end, or you fear that it won’t. The Bible describes faith as being certain of what we do not see. Everyone has a certain degree of faith, no matter how small. You couldn’t survive if you didn’t – you would be paralyzed with fear. For example, in order for you to sit in a chair, you have to believe that the chair will be able to sustain your weight and that you won’t end up falling and hurting yourself if you sat in it. Likewise, to get into a car or a bus, you have to believe that you will arrive safely at your destination as a result of doing so. You have to have faith that the automobile company manufactured a sound vehicle; you have to have faith that the driver of the vehicle knows how to operate it efficiently and knows the route to take you where you want to go; you have to have faith that other drivers on the road will follow the rules of driving safety (although that faith is tested more and more every day by reckless drivers in The Bahamas).
Everyday acts require faith – eating at a restaurant, attending a public event, having a child are just a few of countless examples. On the other hand, fear, simply stated, is unbelief or weak belief. As it wins the upper hand in our thoughts, fear takes root in our emotions. The result is often anxiety.
Defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure”, anxiety has been with us for a long time. In fact, when faced with potentially harmful or worrying situations, anxiety is not only normal but necessary for survival.
Ever since the earliest days of man’s journey on planet earth, the presence of approaching predators or incoming danger has set off alarms in the body which allow an individual to take evasive action. A rush of adrenaline in response to danger causes reactions such as a raised heartbeat, sweating, and increased sensitivity to one’s surroundings, known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This adrenaline boost prepares humans to physically confront or flee any threats to safety.
Unlike our forefathers before us, humans today do not generally have to deal with running from larger animals and imminent danger is a less crucial concern. Today’s anxieties, more often than not, now come from work, management of one’s finances or lack thereof, family life, health concerns, and other pressing issues that demand a person’s attention, without necessarily requiring the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Anxiety disorders occur when a reaction is out of proportion to what might normally be expected in a situation. Unchecked, it can lead to very serious health hazards including elevated blood pressure, dizziness, trembling, increased or irregular heartbeat, back pain, restlessness and fatigue, and muscle tension. People with anxiety disorder often present symptoms similar to clinical depression and vice-versa.
There are several things that you can do if you suffer from excessive worrying and anxiety. For starters, you should learn to manage your stress by limiting potential triggers as much as possible. Keep pressures and deadlines within eye view, compile lists to make overwhelming tasks more manageable, and plan to take time off from study or work. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, long baths, enjoying nature or resting in the dark, are also quite useful and effective in relieving stress. You should make a conscious effort to replace negative thoughts with positive, believable ones. Conjure a mental picture of yourself successfully facing and conquering a fear if the anxiety symptoms are related to a specific cause. You can never have too much support – talk with a family member, pastor or friend who is willing to listen. Physical exercise not only improves your self-image but it also releases chemicals in the brain that trigger positive feelings. Seek counseling if necessary. There is no shame in receiving help if you need it.
And finally, have faith. Believe that there is a power greater than you who has a plan for your life. Trust that it will work out in the end, no matter what happens. Even what appears to be bad can turn out for you good. It is during times of difficulty that we gain strength and endurance. Remember that you attract what you fear – if you fear the worse, chances are that is exactly what you will get. If you have to believe in something, why not make it something good? As the song goes, “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.”