You might not need to ever try anything I will suggest today. Maybe you are one of those blessed souls who really doesn’t worry. I have known people who really don’t worry. To me, it’s a special sort of gift, like not needing much sleep, or being able to whistle.
But for most of us, worry creeps in to almost every hour of every day. It might not be debilitating; just a wisp of a worry crossing the mind in consideration. But worry is a beast that can grow without much feeding; we seldom actually worry about stuff that is really dangerous, like eating fatty, processed food or driving in a car. Instead, most of us worry about stuff we can’t fix and sometimes that worry preoccupies all the space that should be filled with creativity and joy.
For some people, the worry is very specific; that they will lose their job, or that something will happen to their children, or that they won’t have enough money to pay the bills. Those are worries that can be addressed, although they might never completely disappear. And they are worries that can recede for a time; when you get a good review or your children are tucked for stories on the couch or when there is more money than month for the first time.
Those specific worries are draining, but not toxic. The really toxic worries are the ones over which you have no control at all. You can’t affect what other people think of you. You can’t make someone love you. You can’t predict the future. And these are the kinds of worries that eat away at our souls and prevent us from being the happy, creative and rational people that God created us to be.
But in my experience, scolding someone for worrying does not stop the worry. It just adds shame to the toxic brew of whirling thoughts. More helpful, at least for me, is containing the worry.
First, I have to stop and think about whatever it is that is worrying me. Is it something concrete; can I do something about it? Then I should. If it is not concrete, is there a thought or a memory that is lurking below the surface of my consciousness to which I should pay attention? Sometimes, just naming the worry takes away much of its power.
Am I just generally worried and anxious? When little children are fretful and overtired, wise caregivers know to wrap them, rock them and sing to them. I think adults need this more than we realize. If we are feeling out of control and worried, it sometimes helps to wrap up in a blanket or scarf. Rocking in a chair or swing, and breathing deeply can help. Soothe that little one inside of you who is fretful and tired, and you may find that your mind will calm and slow down.
It also can be helpful to contain your worry. Roman Catholics use the rosary to focus their mind on prayers and to contemplate both joyful and sorrowful mysteries.
The repetition of the prayers is also calming, and it has a beginning and an end. Frequently, when we have prayed about something, and have an end point, it is easier to hand over our worry to God, having done all that we can for the moment.
Because I have been in choirs most of my life, I often sing to relieve my worry. The act of singing (and the deep breathing that goes with it) increases my oxygen. The familiar words and tunes remind me of God’s eternal and ever-faithful love. And sometimes, I find myself singing the words that contain the answer to the questions in my racing mind. I get some stares at the traffic lights, but singing has gotten me through a lot of difficulty.
Whatever worry is worrying you today, do something for yourself that will move you from worry to praise for the God who holds the future and loves each one of us.