November 08, 2005

Excessive Worrying is Harmful

"Worrying about things we have no control over is counterproductive. It makesyou tense -- which, in turn, ruins your judgment. When you are worried, you live in a state of fear. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to be loving, helpful, and kind on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. And being kind is what the world needs most at this time. We need living examples among us who are confident, loving, kind, courageous, and generous. As individuals, being excessively worried about our personal and national safety doesn't support these ideals.

When we're too worried, we tend to be less generous. We're so concerned about our own needs and fears that we forget about others. There are exceptions, such as immediately following a national crisis, when people can be extremely generous, but generally speaking, we are usually more stingy with our time and money when we are focused on ourselves and our own worries.

When you're not overly worried, you trust that everything is going to be okay. It's therefore easier for you to reach out to others and to be an example of someone who isn't frightened. You intuitively understand that giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. The more you give, the more you receive. You trust your heart instead of only relying on your head. Other people see the way you live your life and begin to trust that it's okay to be generous and kind themselves. Your lack of fear spreads a positive message.

On the flip side, one of the problems with excessive worry is that it's also contagious. When you're worried, you tend to discuss your fears and commiserate with others about those fears. We then focus too much on what's wrong with the world, instead of remembering how much good there is as well. This spreads worry and negativity, which compounds the problem and makes us feel even more insecure. Too much worry makes people suspicious and cynical. When our children see us worried, then they too become frightened. It creates a vicious cycle, and the best way to help is to step outside the confines of that cycle.

Beyond all the negative practical aspects of fear is the simple truth that worry interferes with the quality of your life. Rather than being awestruck by the beauty of life, you focus too much on its potential dangers. You have fewer experiences because of fear of what might happen. Worry interferes with spontaneous joy. It keeps us tense and on guard. It makes us far more reactive, which in turn negatively affects all of our relationships, personal and otherwise. Our patience is affected, as is our temper. When we worry too much, it's harder to see the innocence in people and to remember that, although there are obvious exceptions, a vast majority of people are decent and loving.

This doesn't mean there aren't legitimate things to worry about. It's just that it's important to know that worry itself is something we do to ourselves, within our own thinking. It's not bad. It's just important to know where it's coming from in order to create the possibility to let it go. Worry is one of those things that tends to magnify and feed on itself unless and until we can recognize the role that our thinking is playing in the process.

Many people equate being worried with caring, as if the two are interconnected. To some extent, I disagree with this notion. While it's certainly true that there are appropriate times to worry about those we love, it's also important to know that worry is not synonymous with love. In fact, when you describe or think about love or caring, what words do you use? To me, words like gentle, kind, trust, relaxed, selfless, giving, supportive, listening, willing, and hugs come to mind. What about you?

On the other hand, when you think of worry, the opposite adjectives come to mind: words like tense, untrusting, cynical, suspicious, and on-edge, to name a few. I bring this to your attention as further justification for attempting to eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, your sense of fear. It's always easier to get rid of something when you see it as harmful instead of as an asset.

Whatever you do, don't pretend that you have no fear. It's not necessary, and it's not the best way to get rid of fear anyway. The most effective "fear-buster" that I'm aware of is to acknowledge the fear fully, but rather than running from it -- or reacting to it -- the technique is to turn toward the fear, face on. You can even talk to it like this: 'I see you, fear, and it's okay that you're here. I am, however, prepared to give you less significance. From now on, when you surface, I'm going to dismiss you more quickly.'"

This article is excerpted from What About the Big Stuff?, ©2002, by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.

About the Author:
RICHARD CARLSON is the bestselling author of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at Work; Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens; and Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Men, among other titles. He lectures around the country and internationally, and lives with his wife and children in Northern California. Visit his website at

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