I’m a worrier. Anyone who knows me know that about me. It’s my natural inclination to dwell on the “What if?” questions and the long list of things that could potentially go wrong in any situation. It’s a part of who I am.
In some ways, this is a blessing. It forces me to think things through a little more carefully, to avoid pitfalls, and to go about my life in a more safe and efficient way. There is a healthy way to use this aspect of my personality.
But sometimes, I let my worry get the best of me. When I don’t keep my tendency towards worrying in check, it can take over. And when it does, it brings me a few… well, let’s call them “gifts.”
I like to compare my worried self to a big ball of stress. When you’re nearby, you can just feel the anxiety radiating off of me. I’m undergoing inner turmoil, and it just consumes me. The littlest hiccups become causes for despair. I can’t focus on anything because my mind is completely full of the long list of things that are going wrong or that could go wrong, and I am very unpleasant to be around. This is a gift that worry brings me.
Usually, my worry stems in one way or another from my preconceived plans going awry: the schedule is off or someone has a different idea than I do or I have no control at all over what’s happening. And in my mind, a deviation from my plans is an objective evil. I lose all patience because I’m dissatisfied and just want things to go my way. I start to form grudges against people who I would normally give the benefit of the doubt and probably haven’t actually wronged me anyway, and my internal dialogue becomes downright mean. This is a gift that worry brings me.
Too much inward focus leaves little room for outward effectiveness. When I’m worried, I get so in my head that I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing, much less perform at my best. Nothing stifles my creativity or efficiency more than worry. In an attempt to get things back on track, I become counterproductive and usually end up creating even more work for myself. I do not perform well under the pressure I put myself under. This is a gift that worry brings me.
If you struggle with worry the way I do, you understand the pure exhaustion that comes with it. After spending every ounce of energy I have on being stressed, getting frustrated, and futilely working to make things the way I want them to be, I completely run out of energy. This happens much more quickly than it would if I were simply focused on the task at hand. But since I’m pouring all of my energy into my own internal dialogue, I have little—if any—left for things outside myself. This is a gift that worry brings me.
At some point, though, worry will dissipate. Whether things go the way I think they should or not, I eventually get through whatever it is that’s causing me to fret. And on the other side, I always discover that my situation is so much better than I imagined it would be. Many of the things I feared in the meantime never came about, and the reality I’m faced with is actually quite pleasant, even though it isn’t exactly what I had planned. When worry goes away, I am left feeling ten pounds lighter. I can breathe much more easily. And life seems so much brighter. This is a gift that worry brings me.
Though the gift of relief might sound appealing, it’s really an inferior consolation prize. When I go down the route of worry, I have to endure the stress, frustration, ineffectiveness, and fatigue in order to get to the relief and the happy ending that accompany it. That’s a lot to go through.
What if, instead, I chose a different path? Rather than pushing so hard against the circumstances surrounding me, what if I simply accepted them? Worked within them? Maybe even learned to appreciate the good things about them? Maybe then, I wouldn’t have to go through so much just to get to the good part afterwards. Maybe then, I could enjoy the journey rather than suffer through it just to get to the end. Maybe that would be a better gift than the ones worry offers me.
If you’re like me, worry is a constant temptation, a borderline addiction, a vicious cycle. But as I have to remind myself often, there is a better way. We can choose to become less worrisome and more accepting of our circumstances. Because the gifts of worry are not gifts at all. The real gift is this life we’ve been given and the ability to we have to enjoy it with those we care about. Worriers, we would do well to do a little more of that and a little less of the worrying we’ve become accustomed to.