How do you deal with worry?
For the past few months, I’ve been knotted with worry about something that I recently learned was nothing. Has this ever happened to you?
Have you ever rushed to imaginary conclusions that never came to fruition? Have you ever been unable to sleep because worry pounds a bass drum in your brain? Has worry ever robbed you of the desire to eat brownies? Or leave your house? Or answer your phone? Or change your pants? Has worry ever made you want to punch Bobby McFerrin in the throat?
A recent textversation with a friend went like this:
Friend: Do you worry about your health?
Me: All the time.
Friend: How do you deal with worry?
Me: I imagine creative ways to hurt Bobby McFerrin.
Me: Google him. It’s impossible to be totally worry free. I’ve learned the more active I am–like writing or exercising–the less I worry about my brain. Focus on short-term realities instead of long-term delusions.
I thought retiring from teaching would make life easier. And in some ways it has–no more rushing out the door before sunrise, no more deadlines, no paperwork, no more ironing my khakis, no more answering parent emails while eating dinner–yet retirement has opened up my schedule and the opportunistic Mr. and Mrs. Worry have penciled themselves in for daily meetings. I never realized the traditional work day of emails and obligations was a pill that prevented worrying from lingering. You become too busy to worry. Like a thirsty hamster running on a wheel, focused on keeping his paws moving; not the water-bottle strapped to the cage.
Also, I now realize I’m a selfish worrier. My health, my writing, my purpose, my self-worth, my masculine ego. I’ve noticed Cindy not only worries about her own life, and my health, but also worries about family matters. From if there’s enough Cheez-its for lunch, to if the kids have clean, well-fitted clothes, to making sure they’re not growing up to be serial killers in ill-fitted clothes.
The other night, my seven-year-old taught me a valuable lesson at dinner. I was pushing string beans around my plate, worrying to Cindy about health insurance, when Dylan interrupted, rather rudely, to announce he will have a warm brownie for dessert.
At first I was annoyed. How could my son be so apathetic about my troubles? How could he be so indifferent to my worry? How could he eat at a time like this? Maybe he’s already a serial killer. But soon the other kids shouted, “I want a brownie, too.”
Cindy moved to the kitchen and asked me, “Do you want a brownie?”
I looked at the cold string beans on my plate. “Sure.”
Thanks to my gluttonous son, we shifted from dinner to dessert. It was the subtle shift my attention needed. I went from lamenting cold green beans to enjoying a warm brownie. Sugar filled and worry free.
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