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The waste of worry

By September 14, 2010How To, Myth or Reality

I have this wonderful friend. I think she’s in her 70’s, but that seems unreal to me, because she seems much, much younger—yet at the same time, she’s eternally wise and worldly. She’s a conundrum. Named Sally. Or as her husband calls her, ‘My Gal Sal’. Swear to God.

Anyway, when I was home in St. Louis my junior year of college doing an internships, we went on many walks.

It’s fair to say that during that time of my life, I was a mess. Eating disorder, panic attacks, general fear of just about everything. Such a sad thing, I was.

And I remember, on one of our walks, Sally and I were talking about our traveling fears. I was deathly afraid of flying. She was deathly afraid of highway driving. She told me, “There is no point in worrying. Because you always end up worrying about the wrong thing.”

Lately, I’ve been around some people that are worrying their brains off, their hearts up and down, their lives away.

It’s hard to be around. (Even especially when I’m one of those people.)

Not because I don’t love them (us) all dearly.

But because I think we’re worrying about the wrong things. Our worries are valid, their imagined outcomes quite possible. But, in this moment, there is literally no evidence that these worries will come true.

So, here some of them are:

  • Worried work and money will dwindle or disappear.
  • Worried about how people will react to their decisions.
  • Worried that someone might get hurt.
  • Worried they’ll be alone for the rest of forever.

When in fact, who the hell knows? And what if we spend a year—or five—worrying about things that never come true? How sad. How tragically wasteful. Think of all of the things we could have done with their time? With the heartbeats that pounded in our chests? With the breaths that just wouldn’t catch?

Bless our hearts, these worries feel very real. They are based on stories we’ve written about our potential catastrophes.

At this very moment, I’m half-way through the first Percy Jackson story. [For those of you who don’t know, these stories are basically Harry Potter only not written, crafted or designed quite as well, and insert Greek mythology and gods for magic and wizards. Oh, and some parts are cheesey as all hell.]

There’s a lot of action (and a fair bit of me yelling at the book, ‘Come on! This is so fucking obvious!’) that inspires anxiety. I find myself freaked out and worried with a pounding heart full of panic for a fictional kid. Even when I’m not actually reading.

My point is this: this book isn’t that well written, I don’t love it, I know it’s not true—but I’m starting to wonder…I mean, it could be…and it’s causing me real, intense anxiety and worry.

Sound familiar?

I mentioned the other day that the future doesn’t exist. It’s not real. But somehow, most of us fill it with terror. When, in reality, everything right now just (for most of us I’m guessing) isn’t that bad.

It might even be good.

Image credit: Ron J. Añejo

Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Jason says:

    What, me worry? If I took the time to worry, I’d have been finished long ago. Change “worry” into “planning”, that’s my mantra. Oh, and don’t worry about things beyond your control, like a hurricane, for example. Sometimes even planning falls apart, but WTF… get over it, right? Nice post. Run more, worry less… there’s a formula for success!

  • Joseph Ruiz says:

    Julie, I read somewhere that 90% of what we worry about never comes to pass and the 10% most of that we have no control over. Thanks for the reminder.

    Hope you are well.

  • Sarah Good says:

    well, this coudn’t have come at a better time for me….this has been a topic for me the last few days…. LOVE your writing! Loved this! Thanks!

    p.s……I’m still deathly afraid of flying – ugh!

  • --Deb says:

    I try very hard not to worry about things. It’s a knack, really, though it’s very closely related to walking around with blinkers–you just kind of ignore the stuff you’d be worrying about (which can come back to bite you if you’re not careful). Ultimately, though, I don’t function well with my stomach in knots, and I’m essentially an optimist, so my default setting is to try to ease my way through life without fretting.

    I sometimes wonder, though, if the worry factor is connected to the difference between even-tempered people (like me) and the emotional-roller-coaster people who live on the outside of their skins.

  • Leon Noone says:

    G’Day Julie,

    I remember reading years ago that it’s not what happens to you that counts, it’s how you react to it. Apart from that, we usually reserve our worry for stuff we can’t do much about anyway.

    If you want something to worry about consider….
    *If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?
    *Why are a wise man and a wise guy opposites?
    * Why do croutons come in airtight packaging. They’re only stale bread to begin with
    *Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery?

    You could offer free copywriting—It’s not my money!– for the most absurd but witty answer. Then your subscribers could worry about the impartiality of the judges. There are just so many excellent opportunities for worryworts.

    Make worry fun



  • Julie Roads says:

    Jason – I totally agree. And as I read this over I realized that I thru myself under the bus more than I needed to. I’ve lowered my worry quotient by leaps and bounds of late.

    Ran this morning…and have a little shin splint. I think it’s from the switch to shoes after a summer of flip flops. This too shall pass!

  • Andi says:

    My life used to run on worry and I made myself and those around me unhappy because of it. Then just about 10 years I woke up and said to myself, “gosh it is miserable being you, do you think you can just stop it and be happy?” I decided, “why yes I can” and I have NEVER looked back!

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    The brain likes to dwell on the negative, but we can all write our own movie script and star in our own future. So true. There is a difference between weighing pros and cons and thinking about future consequences vs worry. Worry never ends and nearly paralyzes you, whereas weighing the pros and cons helps you arrive at a better, more peaceful decision.

    or maybe I’m just too attached to my worries.

  • Lianne says:

    good stuff, Julie

    Puts me in mind of my grandma who always used to say, “Don’t borrow trouble from the future.”

  • Delbert M says:

    Great lyric:

    “And to think I used to worry
    about things like that.
    I used to worry about rich and skinny,
    ’till I wound up poor and fat.
    These days, I kinda wonder
    where my mind’s been at.
    And to think I used to worry
    about things like that.”

  • Julie Roads says:

    Lianne and Delbert – I love both of these quotes! Thanks for pitching in…

  • Emma Newman says:

    So, so true. I’ve started to realise that a lot of my anxiety comes from the same bit of my brain that writes novels. Bummer really, as I quite like that bit of my brain.

    If I’m not careful, it starts making up all these ridiculous things that might happen and mumbles the stories in the background not quite loud enough to hear consciously. You know, things like “You haven’t checked in with that client for 4 days now so there’ll be an email saying you’re sacked” – absolutely nonsense and poisonous fantasy.

    Now I make it write post-apocalyptic fiction first thing in the morning. That seems to help… maybe it’s like a toddler that’s exhausted itself by mid morning…

  • Sal says:

    Aw, my name is Sally, and my grandpa would alway call me ‘My Gal Sal.’ I miss that now, but it still brings a smile to my face. I used to not like my name, because I thought it was just so old-fashioned, but now I can see the specialness of that.

    I have anxiety about future things alot. Recently my mom went to the ER thinking she was having a stroke, when she was actually having a severe anxiety attack. Even though she was just fine, after I got off the phone with here, I was in tears, because I just kept thinking, “what if she had had a stroke? what if she has a stroke?” Even though it didn’t come to pass, I felt devastated by the very idea.

    I don’t know why we do this to ourselves.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Sal – I totally get that, exactly. I had a horrible birth experience and a tiny baby, who was really FINE. But I spent a long time (2 years?) in the story loop of what if – and it damn near drove me crazy with fear.

  • Tarald Stein says:

    Thank you for writing this! And several of your other posts that I’ve read after stumbling upon it today. Will be back to read more.

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