Love and Logic founders, Jim Fay and Foster Cline, summarize the harm of worrying perfectly in this quote from their book, “Parenting with Love and Logic”:
“Worry is the price you pay in advance for most things in life that never happen. You only have so much time with your children and you can spend it one of two ways: You could spend all the time thinking of all the things that could go wrong or you can put that energy into building a positive relationship with your child.”
We think when we worry that we are DOING something. We believe we are somehow helping our child and by worrying about them, we are preventing something bad from happening. But the reality is that worry is just an emotion, it is NOT AN ACTION. Having an emotion can NEVER make anything happen or not happen. Worry actually is just robbing us from having a great relationship with our kids.
In fact, in every situation, worry is not helpful or necessary.
And as a matter of fact, worry is UN-helpful and can only make the worrier and those around them suffer unnecessarily. It is an indulgent emotion that keeps us stuck. It makes us feel like we’re taking action when we are not.
So why do we fall for worry so easily then?
Worry is one of the few negative emotions that we encourage each other to feel without realizing it. Sometimes, people are think they are trying to give us useful information, but instead they are causing worry. For example, my daughter was assigned to a teacher this year that a few parents had concerns about from when their child was in his class. They were encouraging us to worry about the teacher before we even experienced him. We fuel worry for one another. And we fuel the idea for each other that worry is useful.
Worry lives in the family of fear and anxiety, which are both future focused. We can’t feel worry about something that happening right now. As humans, we have natural intuition about when to be afraid in order to keep us safe. We have natural instinct to protect our kids. But as we go through life we have experiences that misinforms our intuition. If we see something on the news that is scary, then sometimes we think that the same thing might happen to us, even though there is no real threat. It becomes hard to distinguish the real danger from the thoughts in our head.
In our world today, we don’t have as much physical danger as we used to, but we do have emotional danger. And this is what we worry about.
We are worried about our kids experiencing painful emotions, so we try to protect them from these situations, but in fact the worry about the future is almost always more painful than what we’re experiencing in the present. Fear and worry almost always feel worse than pain or sadness and we can handle sadness, we can handle the pain. So why feel the pain of something happening before it does?
When we worry, we show up to everyday challenges in a state that makes us much more unprepared to deal than if we stayed present focused. When you worry, you fall into the idea that you should spin out over something has yet to happen. But if we let go of worry, we could then be emotionally fresh and awake in difficulty and would be able to deal with useful challenging emotions better if they do arise.
So what do we do when worry creeps up?
First, we need to lean in to the emotion and process it, so that we can understand the emotion and figure out the thoughts that cause it, even though it might be painful. To process an emotion, label it, whether it’s fear or worry, and describe what it feels like in your body. The emotion should pass once it’s processed, and then once it’s processed, bring yourself back to the present. Repeat a mantra like “Everything is ok right now.” Then, re-frame the thought to include what you have control over. Next, find a friend that can provide empathy for you and maybe even call you out on whether or not you are just spinning out in worry and give you other more positive thoughts you can think instead. If you want to take it one step further, you can notice what thoughts might be causing the worry and work on changing them. This is what I do with my clients, what a coach can do for you. Start watching your thoughts. Surrender to your circumstances, and let go of the drama.
Get curious about what might happen instead of worrying about it and surrender to the reality of what’s happening now.
Then you become so much more effective in your life. And you may even have some fun!