Why do we worry? The obvious answer is that we have problems that worry us. so, we worry. But the obvious answer is not always right.
Some women are hardwired for worry. Take for example my friend Savita. She not only is a "wonderful cook" but a "wonderful worrier" too. The joke is that she worries about such silly things. When giving me a recipe, the ingredients and method were all mixed up with worried comments about her son's Maths test marks, her brother-in-law's drinking problem, whether another tsunami would strike soon, whether she had left the electric iron on at home or maybe the gas is leaking... and so on.
I questioned her rather bluntly for her abnormal anxiety and it turned out that she was really worried that she might have cancer. The other worries were her way of avoiding the need to face the real, big one.
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From infancy there are problems to be faced and solved. Normal worrying is just the first part of the thinking process involved in the search of answers. It is a way of recognising htat there is a problem, and identifying it, before thinking of how to deal with it. So in a way, worrying is natural and necessary. Call it "anxiety-stress" or "panic-disorder", it still comes to the same thing.
Then, worrying itself becomes another problem and a worse one. The necessary thinking process for solving your problems becomes circular instead of constructive. Your thoughts go round and round, ending where they started, and instead of trying to find answers, you are back where you started - at the beginning. There is no progress, only fatigue and frustration.
Your thoughts are on these lines: "I have a problem. this is my problem. It is very difficult. I have this problem which is very difficult. My problem is very difficult..." You are thinking more about the difficulty than the problem itself; so you cannot think of answers of solutions. Of course, there are some problems that have no solutions or answers, however hard you may try to find them. So what is to be done?
What you should not do is worry yourself sick. Beating your head against a hard wall will hurt you and not the wall. Get the best opinion and advice that you can about the problem, and from several sources. Get support and sympathy from friends and family. By unnecessary secrecy you may be depriving yourself of a lot. Often it is ignorance that makes people seem callous and uncaring. You may get more support and sympathy and help, if they realize that you have a problem.
If after your best efforts, the problem still cannot be solved, then accept the fact. You have to live with it. Look for compromise, work around and with the problem rather than exhaust yourself and others by endless, useless worrying.
Sumi has a retarded child and worries about his future. However, she has pinpointed the areas where she can do something, such as a special school, rehabilitation, love, reassurance and companionship - though at the cost of certain comforts and her social life - not forgetting the hard work involved. Her husband helps, but the bulk of the burden falls on her. She does worry about, "After me, what of the child?" This is only natural, as the problem is not yet solved. But, because she is doing something useful about it, her worry is eased to some extent. Her thinking does not stop with worrying but goes on to produce some concrete results - mostly good.
The physical ill-effects of worry range from sleeplessness and lack of concentration to stomach and skin ailments. Maybe, even heart ailments can be ascribed to this. Emotionally, one is tense, irritable, self-pitying and basically self-centred. Blood pressure (high and low) and weight (under and over) can be adversely affected.
Rather than worrying yourself sick, all by yourself, it is better to develop some skill or talent or hobby and get some pleasure as well as some relief from the worrying. Mingling with friends, attending interesting social and artistic functions like lectures, dance and music recitals, plays and exhibitions or art will develop your personality and broaden your outlook.
Sometimes worriers seek weird distractions that may work negative for them. Take the case of Beena, who's constantly worried about family finances. She is found at every discount sale getting "bargains". But in her efforts to minimize her family's burden, she spends unnecessarily on "bargains" that she does not need. On the one hand, she overspends by indulging in bargain shopping spree while on the other hand she cribs about her meager financial resources. Ms Amina, a rising young executive who is due for a promotion has taken to smoking to relieve the tension and stress at work. She has developed an unattractive and unhealthy smoker's cough. She was popping a pill the other day, "For these headaches, I keep getting. They are ordinary headache pills, you know", she said. Yes, and next it will be tranquillizers to relax, sleeping pills to sleep and something to wake her up too.
Simi and Nita are best friends from the day they started school together. They play together and study together. they worry together too - about exams, boys, careers, parents et al. Finding them in tears one gruelling, hot day, I doled out sympathy and ice-creams. Their overwhelming worry was the looming final exams, which were coming closer and closer. They worried and, how! "I am so worried I can't eat, can't sleep, can't study", Simi broke down while Nita moaned, "I am just the opposite. I sleep and sleep and I'm still tired. I eat and eat and I'm still hungry, and I just can't study either." Both had sickly, spotty skins and dark shadows under their eyes; one was skinny and other overweight, puffy and somehow more pathetic.
We talked and they decided to forget all about their exams, keep normal school hours (though they had revision holidays), eat and sleep only at normal times (no more, no less), write out and stick to a revision timetable, "and promise to stop worrying. "At least, we'll try very hard", they assured me. "and be sure you get some outdoor exercise too", I added. This being a true life incident and not a fable, they did not get exceptionally high marks but they did reasonably well, much better than what was expected of them. Simi developed an interest in dramatics which taught her a lot of self-control and Nita took a great deal of interest in her swimming-coach and hence in swimming and not only realised the importance of exercise but also the basics of a healthy diet.
All these people are real, with real problems and real worries. So unlike in fairy tales, there is no "happy ever after" end. But they did come to realise the value of constructive thinking and positive action over excessive worrying. Each one in her own way, tried and, as a result, is healthier and happier.
Are you a chronic worrier? Then it's time for you to stop now and take steps to combat it. "How to stop worrying and start living" by Dale Carnegie is a wonderful book, that you might find very useful. It's a book that you should have for keeps and read over and over again.
(Guest Post by Navneet R.)
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