The Corona virus seems to have led to many of us having somebody or something to ‘worry’ about. We may fear that people we love will become ill or even die. We may fear that we ourselves will get ill or die. People we know may be at risk of losing their jobs, others may be isolated and lonely. It feels like there has been a sudden increase in the number of people and things to worry about!
Worry is a feeling we are all familiar with. It is that horrible gnawing feeling in the stomach, waking up at 3am, headache and an inability to focus on anything for long before the worry reappears again. It is an exhausting circle of anxiety and concern and it certainly does not feel good!
This led me to consider why we worry and whether it helps the person we are ‘worrying about’ in any way? Is it even possible that it could do them more harm than good?
So, let us take a moment to try and unpack why we worry. I think worry is the result of our basic response to fear. We hear that someone we love is going through a difficult time or under threat and our first instinctive feeling is fear. Once the fear response is triggered in our bodies this sets a whole chain of reactions off. It is our most primal response and extremely useful for our survival, or at least it is useful when we need to run away from a lion or react in a physical way to a threat! It is our well known ‘flight or fight’ mechanism and has served our species well over the centuries. However, in our modern world it is triggered by many perceived threats where there is no neccessity to run or to fight! This is a problem because once the response is triggered by fear, as in the fear of someone becoming ill or dying or losing their job, the hormones are released and quickly enter our systems to enable us to react swiftly. However, as we are not running or fighting there is no natural conclusion to this situation and we are caught in a cycle of fear – which I would suggest is what ‘worry’ is in it’s most benign state.
I would also believe that there is a social aspect to worry. We worry because it is seen as normal to worry. If we know someone we love is going through a difficult time then worrying about them is a very socially acceptable thing to do. If you don’t agree with this try for a minute imagining a situation where you say the following to someone. “Yes, my mother is very ill at the moment, but I’m not worried about her.” It sounds bizarre. The next question would surely be. “Why aren’t you worried about her?” We are much more familiar with someone saying. “I’m really worried about my mother/sister/son.“ I think socially there is an underlying impression that worrying is normal and good, and not worrying means that we don’t care and is therefore abnormal or bad. Therefore to be socially acceptable we have to demonstrate that we are worrying to be considered ‘normal’ and a ‘good’ person. I also wonder if we believe that we are in some way helping the person we are worrying about by going through their pain with them and identifying with them to such an extent that we are almost living their experience?
Worry has its positive side. It can be motivating and lead us to take action, for example revising for an examination or seeking help for ourselves or helping someone else. However, the worry we are looking at here is the worry that goes round in your head, and your body; the worry that leaves you feeling exhausted and where no action is resulting. This type of worry is most frequently worrying about the future. As none of us can predict the future there is no benefit in ‘worrying’ about it, but of course that doesn’t stop us!
To recap, we worry because we are programmed to worry both physically due to our flight or fight response and socially because it somehow seems like a good thing to show we care by worrying. However, none of us like this feeling and it has been shown that chronic worry makes us ill. If we become ill through worry then no doubt someone will be worrying about us!
What can we do? I think we can begin by thinking rationally. Let’s begin by trying to answer the question posed earlier “Does worrying help the person we are worrying about?” Think about that for a minute. If I am worried about my mother becoming ill with Corona virus does this make any difference to her? It only makes a difference if I do something. My worry may encourage me to put things in place that are more likely to keep her safe or it may encourage me to write more often so she feels less isolated. This could be viewed as the more positive side of worry. However, if I’m losing sleep, ringing her every day telling her how worried I am or feeling so worried I can’t face ringing her in case she tells me she’s ill, losing my ability to think clearly, snapping at my husband and screaming at the kids, then this is of no benefit and is actually causing harm to myself and others around me. There is certainly no benefit to my mother who by now is probably becoming increasingly worried about me!
Can you see how worry has the ability to become an entity of it’s own? Life is such that there will continue to be people we love going through difficult situations. We cannot control this, but we can control our response to it. We can choose to be supportive and offer the help we can or want to offer. We can also choose not to offer help if we want. Most importantly we can make a conscious choice not to feed into the ‘worry bubble’. We need to remember that we can step back from our initial response of fear, take a deep breath and look calmly at the reality of the situation, and the things that we can control and the things we can’t. We can not control the future but we do have the possibility of controlling our own responses in the present.
I wonder if instead of worrying we begin to ‘send love’ to the person or situation we are concerned for. Maybe replacing the word ‘worry’ with ‘concern’ would be a good start? We are concerned. Is there anything we can do? Do we want to do anything? If we feel there is nothing we can do, then always remember that we can send love. Sit still for a few minutes and think of that person or that situation and send loving positive thoughts to them or light a candle and each time we see the candle think of that person lovingly. That way we are putting something positive into the world, we are also looking after our own health and we are definitely not adding into the ‘worry bubble!’
So, does worrying serve any purpose? Yes I think worry can serve the purpose of putting us on notice to ask if we can do anything to help, but no, I don’t think being in a continuous, state of worry serves any purpose whatsoever and the simple solution is to replace worry or fear with love. These times are giving us the opportunity to practice this and to make the world a better place, one less worry at a time.