I haven’t been worrying, but I’ve been thinking a lot about worry.
A few weeks ago, something happened in the world, I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was terrible. Someone posted about it on Facebook, and someone else responded “Oh jeez, now we have to worry about this!”
And I thought “No. We don’t.We don’t have to. I certainly don’t have to.“
Then the other night someone said in conversation “I asked the doctor if I should worry yet, and she said no.”
And I said “Shouldn’t the doctor always say no to that question?”
Imagine if the doctor said “Yes, now is the time to worry. We want to tackle this thing head on, so our course of action will be surgery, radiation and lots of worrying. Worry as soon as you wake up for 30 minutes, and then 10 minutes every two hours for the rest of the day. Let me write you a prescription for some Worry-Like-Hell. If you find it’s not helping, just double up the dosage.”
“Ummm, okay Doc.”
Last week, I went for some diagnostic tests. Afterwards I was on the phone with a dear friend who called to ask how it had gone. I told her I have to go for a biopsy. She immediately sprung into action. ‘Do you like your doctor? Are you comfortable with your level of care? Do you need a breast specialist? My mother’s oncologist was…’
She was coming from a place of love. We have a long history that hangs in the background of every conversation we ever have. We’ve known each other forever. She knew and loved my father, who was only 38 when he was diagnosed with cancer. And I adored her mother, who was also taken way too soon. I answered her questions, I listened.
When she finished I asked her how her son, who was traveling, was doing. ‘So, how’s Matt doing?’
‘Are you trying to shut down the conversation?’ she asked in a very sisterly way.
‘No I’m not shutting it down. I just know it’s not time for this conversation yet. When it’s time, then we can have it.’
Maybe she thought I should be worrying. I guess worrying is the expected reaction.
Years ago if I had an impending biopsy, I would have been a nervous wreck. I would most certainly have not been able to write about it like this. I would have been having panic attacks on the daily, just thinking about the possibilities.
I could do that now, if I let my monkey mind go wild. And that monkey is a drama queen, believe me. He throws things at me in my quiet moments. He conjures up the most ridiculous scenarios. It’s not that the worry doesn’t try to creep in. It does, but I choose to shut that monkey down. I don’t indulge him any more. I breathe deeply, and I shut him down. I breathe deeply, and I take control of my own mind.
If we let the monkey go wild, we can make worry a full-time hobby. I know a lot of people who do. They fret all day about what might happen or what they should’ve done . They carry on long dramatic conversations, based on non-reality. They let their imaginations get the best of them, indulge fantasies of doom and gloom, and include everyone around them in those fantasies.
Some people glorify worry like they glorify being overworked and overbooked. They use it as a reason for their actions and an excuse for their non-action. But the fact is, worry is a choice. It is not beyond your control. (Just to be clear, I’m talking about worry. Not panic or anxiety disorders.)
The definition of worry is “to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts; fret”. It comes from the Old English word wyrgan which means to strangle. When you worry, you strangle yourself with tormenting thoughts. Strangling means cutting off the breath. So worry is actually a bunch of tormenting thoughts that cut off your breath.
It all comes back to the breath. That is the reason I haven’t had a panic attack. Because of my breathing practice I am less stressed, less worried, less strangled. Learning to control my thoughts and my breath in calm situations has allowed me to continue the practice in stressful situations.
So, start breathing, and stop worrying.
That’s it. Just stop worrying. You can do it, with practice. You can train yourself not to worry
Sit with your breath and focus. When you try to sit, other things will happen. A horn honks outside. Go back to your breath. The dog starts barking. Go back to your breath. The phone rings. Go back to your breath. You start thinking about groceries. Go back to your breath. Your brain replays a past argument. Go back to your breath.
Then get up and go live your life. When you get aggravated, you go back to your breath. When you get angry, you go back to your breath. When you start to worry, you go back to breath.
Worry is a choice. You never have to worry. You do have to think about things, and figure out whether or not they are within your control. If they are, then take action, and hope for the best.
If the situation is not within your control, you don’t have to think of it again. Ever. You just don’t. So don’t. Take control of your breath and take responsibility for your thoughts.
I don’t have to think about the biopsy until the day I get the results. It’s very simple. I took the test and now I wait. Either it is or it isn’t. That’s all. All other thoughts are unnecessary right now. All other conversations, inconsequential.
All of the worrying in the world will not change a single thing, except for how much I enjoy this moment.
And this feels like a pretty good moment.