Don’t Worry, Be Happy….Yeah, Right!
Bobby McFerrin struck gold back in 1988 by telling people in his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” that they shouldn’t worry, no matter what hardships they might be experiencing. It’s great advice…that is almost impossible for many people to apply.
I was never a worrier until I became a mother. My son taught me many things including how to be filled with anxiety. Is he breathing? Is he too hot? Is he too cold? Is he sick? He IS sick…what do I do if his fever goes to high?? Look at all the things in this room he could choke on! Is this class the right program for him? Will he be happy with this teacher? Will he be safe when I leave? Is this skin rash an allergic reaction? Measles? Autoimmune disease?? He keeps climbing…what if he falls?
However, many people are chronic worriers even without the life of their offspring in their hands. The news is a big contributor to this problem, leaving many otherwise happy people terrified of what could happen. Of course, there is always someone coming along right after that to sell you something to alleviate that fear. You buy it, but the worry and stress do not go away.
Long term worry and anxiety, in addition to robbing you of peace during peaceful moments, are actually killers themselves. They raise your cortisol (stress hormone) and blood sugar levels on a short term basis, and when this feeling occurs day in and day out they lead to a host of health issues including poor immune function, digestive problems, memory loss and can even contribute to heart attacks.
Unfortunately, this information can lead to more worrying…worrying about your worrying. How do we get off the anxiety train when it’s rolling at full speed down the track?
I feel like there are two types of anxiety and they need to be treated differently: acute and generalized. Acute is when you’re worrying about a real problem you are confronted with. In my case, my son was sick many times this past winter. I worried about his coughing getting too bad or his fever getting too high. Generalized is worrying about negative future possibilities. For me, will my son grow up healthy and happy? Will I be able to give him the right set of skills to be successful in life or am I teaching him bad habits? In both cases, the possibilities for poor outcome are real, no matter how likely or unlikely they may be. People do get sick enough to suffer long term effects. People do get launched out into the world unprepared.
For my generalized worry, prayer and meditation followed by action is my best bet. Seeking guidance and peace from my Source is always a comfort. Then I take action inspired by what I’ve been given from within. If my concern in about my son’s education, I can research schools or homeschooling options. If it’s about his health, I can think more critically about meal preparation and make sure I’m at least offering him nutritious foods. (Getting him to eat them, well….that’s another blog post.) Knowing that I have honestly done what I can and I’m prepared goes a long way in easing my worry.
Physical activity is also another huge way to deal with worry. When you are focused on what your body is doing, you don’t have time to worry. Plus everything always seems to look better on the other side of a workout, walk, yoga practice, or best of all…a dance!
Acute anxiety is, for me, the hardest one to deal with. My son is a very adept climber, and at 21 months old he can scale just about any mountain put in front of him. Unfortunately he doesn’t always have the capacity to come back down safely. Sometimes he falls. Every kid falls. On rare occasions there are falls that cause serious injury. Fortunately this has not happened to us, but of course the worry is there. It could happen. Every time I see him on his way up something my mind is filled with all the ways he could fall off and hit his head or poke his eye out. This worry has a function. It causes us to create a safer environment. However, nothing can be 100% safe unless we want to raise our children in a bubble, which of course causes other problems.
Controlling this type of acute anxiety is more challenging for me, especially when my son is sick. I feel out of control. Educating myself on the options for treatment and taking him to the doctor when I feel that it’s appropriate helps. But when it’s two in the morning and he’s running a 103 degree fever, the acute anxiety threatens to take over.
Here are some ways that helped me, and I hope they help you. First, I remind myself that the actual chances of him getting sick enough to cause long term damage are very small (a truth reminder). Second, I review the choices on how to treat him and choose the best one for the situation (take action). Third, I remind myself that if it looks like the illness could get out of hand, we have medical care available 24/7 (acknowledge the safety net). Then I breathe. Focusing on my breath returns me to my center and makes it easier for me to remember that no matter what, no matter what, we will be ok. This is my faith in action. I believe that God is on my side, and literally nothing can happen to me or my son that will separate us from that divine love.
So for generalized worry, I recommend:
- Prayer/meditation/seeking guidance
- Taking action
- Physical activity
And for acute worry, I recommend:
- Truth reminder
- Taking action
- Acknowledge the safety net
- Meditate on my faith and connection to the divine
I wish you a peaceful and worry-free evening!