Don’t worry, be happy…..(well, some of the time!)
“In every life we have some trouble, But when you worry you make it double. Don't worry, be happy...”
I like Bobby McFerrin’s sentiment here, sometimes worrying can add to our sense of difficulty and burden. Life can be hard enough without having to worry about it too!
I’m putting in a good word for worry. Without worry we wouldn’t be able to predict bad things that can go wrong. We wouldn’t be able to make changes to keep ourselves and others safe. If we didn’t worry we would do some very risky things. Like walk in front of buses, poke sticks into wasps nests, eat poisonous mushrooms, and jump out of high windows. Worry isn’t all bad. It can be the motivator we need to spot a potential problem
and do something about it.
What causes anxiety or worry?
We often use the words worry/stress/anxiety interchangeably and we are essentially talking about the same physical and emotional reactions. When we perceive a risk, our body and our brain react to keep us safe. We are all familiar with the effects. When we are frightened we can feel a physical jolt as our muscles tense, our heart rate increases, hormones rush to our aid and we get ready for 'fight or flight'. Stress or anxiety may have less dramatic effects and act over a longer time period, but it is the same response that we are hardwired into. We react to something that causes us concern.
Ah ah ah ah, staying alive...
For our cavemen and cavewomen predecessors this was a great way to stay alive. We are here today because they were good at not becoming lunch for a sabre-toothed tiger. We are also here today because our ancestors were good at finding their own lunch. Those same adrenaline/cortisol responses that allowed them to or fight or flee, also let them hunt for food and prompted them to keep going through tiredness or muscle fatigue. Those useful responses that kept them alive are the same responses that we have. It is tempting to always look at the negative side of stress and anxiety and try to get rid of it. But what if we change our perception? What if we give credit for the things it allows us to do - instead of only noticing the things it stops us doing? What if we see stress and anxiety as our bodies' way of caring for us?
I think that changing our view of anxiety or worry could be beneficial. Our body is trying to protect us. It might have unhelpful effects now, but it was well-intentioned to start with. It isn't something to be cross with ourselves for doing, but rather something that we want to contain or to gently try to reduce. Like an overexcited puppy or toddler, it's based on a lack of understanding and therefore an overreaction of emotions. Let's give our inner cave dweller a break. Let's see him or her as a part of us that got a bit too excited, a bit too reactive and just needs a gentle helping hand to calm down.
A Natural Worrier
Psychologists talk about meta-worry, which means being worried that we are worried. But we don't need to do that. When we see our inner caveman or cavewoman as a natural worrier then hopefully we can see that it isn't something we should be surprised by or think we need to change. In my role as a Clinical Psychologist I support people to find ways to contain that natural worrier. I find strategies to show that inner natural worrier that things are not as bad as they think.
I work with people to find ways to give them control over that inner caveman or cavewoman
so that they can feel less worried and get on with everything that they want to do.
Don't worry, be happy now...
Back to that song at the beginning. "Don't worry, be happy..."
I’m changing Bobby McFerrin’s words…. Don’t worry (too much), (problem solve) and be happy (with some clear strategies to help you).
Yeah, alright, less catchy. I'll leave the song writing to the experts. With best wishes to your inner natural worriers - they are doing what they are meant to do - if sometimes a bit too much.
Dr Helen Care
Clinical Psychologist at A Confident Start
Helen provides individual therapy for young people and families when there are emotional or psychological difficulties holding them back. https://AConfidentStart.com/therapy
A Confident Start: psychology that works for you and your family