The positive side of worrying | Sunday Observer

The positive side of worrying

If you look at the people around your workplace, you will notice there are many worrywarts
If you look at the people around your workplace, you will notice there are many worrywarts

It is no secret that almost everybody has something to worry about. As children we are worried about our studies and examinations. Most people think that worrying is bad for health. However, modern psychologists think otherwise. According to them, fretting helps us anticipate problems and plan solutions. As humans evolved, says Thomas Borkovec, a psychologist at Pennsylvania State University, the ability to speculate about danger was an advantage. However, many of us are drawn into a fun house of phantom perils. We are also caught up in a cycle of hand-wringing.

Worrying is an emotional disturbance known to psychologists as General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It afflicts men, women and children at some point of their lives. Some children have a vague fear of failure at examinations. Fear of facing the future sometimes lurks in the minds of adults. When we are worried over something, we find it difficult to sleep. We feel some kind of muscle tension and fatigue. In the long run such worries may lead to depression or even hypochondria. Psychologists have paid much attention to come up with a solution to constant worrying.

Great Depression

If you look at the people around your workplace, you will notice that there are many worrywarts. They are constantly worried over their poor income, children’s education and a host of real or imaginary problems. According to psychologists, worrying is 30 per cent inherited. In other words, when parents worry, children follow suit. Even if you have not inherited the malady, you can be affected by others who are worrywarts.

Many people who experienced the Great Depression or the Holocaust never shook their fear of future uncertainty. Recent events in Sri Lanka provide enough causes for us to worry about our future. If you keep on worrying about possible attacks of suicide bombers, life will come to a standstill. We have to remember that no one can stop natural disasters such as floods, tsunami and earthquakes. Similarly, we cannot avoid man-made disasters such as wars, terrorism, strikes and murders. We cannot afford to be over-protective parents and grandparents. Instead of giving a load of advice we can help children to develop their instincts for what is worth fearing. Immediately after the suicide attacks on churches by a group of religious fanatics, most parents did not know how to face the situation. They did not send their children to school fearing further attacks. During the height of terrorism launched by the Liberations Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) some people avoided travelling by train. However, sooner or later they realized that life had to go on despite such threats to life.

Take a simple situation in which a mother or father can worry. If their teenage son or daughter goes on a trip, they are constantly worried about their children’s safety. If a young daughter is driving alone immediately after obtaining her licence, it is useless calling her on the mobile phone and inquiring about her situation. It is natural for parents to worry about their children, but a non-worrier will soon conclude that nothing bad is likely to happen.

Dire predictions

In one study, psychologists tracked the dire predictions of 15 adults with GAD. In 84 per cent of the outcomes, events turned out better than they had anticipated. On the few occasions when something bad happened, the worriers coped more adroitly than they had imagined. According to recent research, anxiety does not prepare people for the real world disasters. During the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) insurrection, journalists had to travel at night carrying curfew passes. They were stopped at checkpoints and questioned by the police or the army about their movement. Although there was much anxiety, they carried on their daily business in a state of low physical alertness. If they were prone to fretting, they could have become perpetually braced for trouble like a soldier peering from a trench into the darkness.

It is strange but true that some people with a steady income, a peaceful homefront and loving children still find something to worry about. One day, a part of the roof in my office collapsed but nobody was injured. After the event some of my colleagues refused to work in that part of the building thinking that the repaired roof would collapse. Once again a worrier’s brain knows only to worry.

Daniel Goleman, author of ‘Emotional Intelligence’ says, “The worrying mind spins on in an endless loop of low-grade melodrama, one set of concerns leading on to the next and back again.” The reaction that underlies worry is the vigilance for potential danger that has been essential for survival over the course of evolution. In a sense, worry is a rehearsal of what might go wrong and how to deal with it. The task of worrying is to come up with positive solutions for life’s perils by anticipating dangers before they arise.

Positive side

There is also a positive side to worrying. Worries are ways to deal with potential threats, with dangers that may come your way. The trouble is that most people simply ruminate on the potential dangers without coming up with a solution. Chronic worriers worry about many things, most of which have no chance of happening. They read dangers into life’s journey that others never see.

As suggested by Judith Orloff, a Professor of Psychiatry, there are a few strategies to counter worries or anxiety. One such strategy is to enlist your intellect. When you are emotionally wrung out, consider whether it is your job to take on the emotions of others. On the other hand, allow some time to emotionally decompress yourself. Taking a walk will do wonders. Today many people begin to meditate when they are emotionally stressed.

Always remember that fear is the mother of all negative emotions from which loneliness, worry and anger are spawned. In contrast, all positive emotions such as courage and hope are born from love. What is more, inner calm is the real antidote to anxiety. If you feel triumphantly calm in a traffic jam, you are in possession of inner calm. Emotional freedom entails building an increasing sense of inner calm. That is perhaps the best way to banish anxiety from your life.

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