Why Worry?

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“I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened” –  Mark Twain

Nice logic Mr Twain. The problem is that most of the time, worry isn’t really the logical thing we might think it is. It’s an  emotional response which comes from and feeds stress and anxiety. They make a powerful and (usually) debilitating trio.

As the poster quote above reminds us, we often get our concerns out of proportion with the matter at hand. That’s a bit worrying isn’t it? (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

I recently came across some interesting statistics purported to be from a study about worry. I’m not sure of the source and therefore the specific validity, but the numbers felt about right when I reflected on my own circumstances:

  • 40% (of worries) never happen.
  • 30% of what we worry about has already happened.
  • 12% are needless worries, such as what someone else thinks about us.
  • 10% are trivial
  • 8% of what we worry about actually happens. Of this percentage:
    • – 4% of our worries that happen are beyond our control.
    • – 4% of what we worry about we have some if not all control over the results.

So why do I worry and what can I do about it?

In his excellent book, Paul “SUMO” McGee, says the following:

“Worry is a form of thinking. Our minds become focused on a particular problem, concern or challenge. How we worry can either be constructive or destructive. There’s ‘worth it worry’, which hopefully leads you to taking some form of action to resolve an issue, or there’s ‘worthless worry’, which does nothing to actually deal with the concerns you have.”

How can we identify and handle the ‘worthless worry’?

I still have a lot to learn in this area – I know that I continue to worry a bit too often. However, these ideas, which I’ve collected over recent years have helped me a lot:

  • Ask yourself how serious is this issue on a scale of 1-10 (10 = death!).
  • Ask yourself “how much will it matter in a day/week/month/year’s time?” (choose the most appropriate)
  • Write the worry down on paper (this can get it “out” of your mind to some degree)
  • Think about the worst case scenario – what’s the worst that could happen and what would you do if it did? (sometimes identifying this can reduce the anxiety levels quite significantly)
  • Can you control or influence the outcome? Think about it. If you can’t then try and learn to accept it.

No rocket science here. These tips won’t eliminate every worry or feeling of anxiety from your life, but may help you get some perspective so you can reduce the size of the “shadow” and therefore eliminate some of the stress. I hope so, anyway.

“Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.”

(Mary Hemingway) 

10 Responses to Why Worry?

  1. Katherine says:

    Nice post and some good tips. My favourite tip (one I am going to adopt from this point on) is ‘Ask yourself how serious is this issue on a scale of 1-10 (10 = death!)’ – this puts things nicely into perspective!!

  2. Julia says:

    I love this post, Frank!

    Interesting how 40% of what we worry about never happens and to think if we can only do something about 4% of the things we worry about.

    Thanks for your tips.

  3. Sally says:

    Good post Frank, I think we all need to worry less. Yesterday I was worrying unnecessarily, but when I stopped to work out why I was worrying I realised it was actually about a feeling of grief that I had. Realising this and having a good cry helped and stopped the worrying. So sometimes working out if there’s an unexpressed feeling underneath the worry helps too.

  4. This morning I awoke at 2:30 AM. I remained bed ridden until 3:30, worrying about what had awoken me. I worried about all the things I had to do that I hadn’t done. I had allowed things to pile up. I was exhausted.

    Finally at about 3:45, I got out of bed; wrote myself a note listing the projects needing completion; stuck it to my computer and went back to bed.

    This morning I got up; had a cup of coffee; read a couple of chapters in a good book; had something to eat and then went into “relief mode” ie. concentrated effort to accomplish/complete that which I had been worrying about. Within a couple hours of concerted effort, I’d completed writing the letters, preparing the invoices. delivering or mailing the invoices, and generally completing all the things on my list.

    The worry/concern lifted immediately and I gave a verbal statement of thanksgiving to myself for taking the responsibility I needed to take, to resolve my problem/worry.

    I thank you for your sound advise. I now have the rest of my weekend to truly relax and enjoy life.

    • frank says:

      Hi David, thank you so much for sharing this. I’m so glad you managed to turn things around in such a great way! Fantastic 🙂

  5. Frank: you’ve pinpointed (and so beautifully – I love your writing style!) such a significant way in which we all waste some of our precious energy on pointless mental processing. And of course most of us do it! Your point about writing it down – especially when the worry has got a grip on us in the middle of the night (thank you for that, David) – really works. Acceptance may be a key to it all: mindfulness has got a lot to teach us here. It’s very much about being in the moment, experiencing what is, and being aware of our thinking, our emotions and our bodily sensations. Ironically, fully experiencing the worry in these dimensions has a way of dispelling it and/or putting it into a totally different perspective. It avoids the mind being hijacked by thoughts of future possibilities or past regrets or frustration. See, for example, the work of professor Mark Williams http://www.thehousepartnership.co.uk/therapy-mindfulness-based/cbt-mindfulness-mbct-video/ It’s poweful stuff.

    • frank says:

      Thanks Lindsay – Love your phrase “pointless mental processing” – what a great way to encapsulate worthless worry. And the point about fully experiencing worry – very interesting and makes a lot of sense.. Thanks for the pointer to Prof Williams – I’ll have a look.

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