On Worrying

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  • Kathleen Ellis

    An Homage to Worry

    Part 1

    I worry about worrying too much
    I worry about not worrying enough
    I worry that worrying too much will give me a heart attack
    I worry that eating too much sugar will also give me a heart attack
    I worry that because I’m a woman I won’t know that I’m really having a heart attack and not indigestion
    I worry that worry is predestined–
    and that all those years of saving holy cards and feeling sorry for everything bad I’ve done isn’t enough

    Part 2

    I kick worry to the curb
    I throw worry under the bus
    I throw worry out with the trash and don’t compost it
    I offer worry to the fire with a little note saying “please don’t save these ashes”
    I hit the delete button on my “50 key things to worry about” folder and then clear the cache
    just so I can’t sneak back and find it at 2:00 am
    I have anti-worry parties instead
    I watch murder mysteries and don’t worry that I’m depressed
    I write posts for the December retreat and foolishly don’t worry at all
    I thank my funny and caring Gathering friends–the circle where worry somehow always transmutes to laughter,
    which really is very good for one’s health.

    • Yota Schneider

      Kathleen – I absolutely love your poem. It’s funny and it’s real. I love all the visuals in Part 2 … throwing worry to the curb, under the bus, and into the fire where it belongs. The image of you zooming around throwing anti-worry parties, watching murder mysteries, opening yourself up, and laughing with us all, warms my heart. Thank you for writing this and sharing it. It’s a blast!

    • Sarah Lipscomb

      Kathleen, I’m OBSESSED with this poem! I love both parts equally; addressing all the worries and then saying all the creative ways to kick them to the curb. What a wonderful way to express worry and make it laughable.

    • Linda Samuels

      Wow, Kathleen! This is the quintessential “worry” poem in all its glory. Love it so much! The first two lines especially resonated…worrying about worrying too much and worrying about NOT worrying enough. A friend of mine who is a devoted worrier once told me that worriers are more prepared for life because worry helps them think about and plan for potential problems. It’s like living on a perpetual “Emergency Preparedness Day.” I get that. But I also remember a stat saying that 95% of the things we worry about never come to be (or something like that.)

      I’m more of a Part 2 worrier because I hate to worry. I’ll explain more soon.

      • Kathleen Ellis

        Linda, this is so funny! perpetual emergency preparedness day! Definitely me in a nutshell. I love that you are a Part 2 person. I’ve always seen you as a person who doesn’t let worry or negative stuff stop you. I love your positive attitude and ability to savor life. But I also don’t feel like you sugar coat anything–a fine line to walk and one I admire tremendously. Now back to that 95%–what if the 5% is a really bad thing??

        • Linda Samuels

          Love how you had a good laugh with this one and how you identify with the idea. Thank you for your kind words.

          I hear you about the 5%. I look at it this way: prepare as best I can without making myself nuts. Prepare for a certain level of comfort if the “what if?” happens. But then let go. For example, when I was caring for my mom, who had dementia, we had many medical emergencies where she ended up in the hospital. I was her healthcare proxy and advocate. I never knew when an emergency would happen, which created underlying stress for me (and some anxiety).

          However, I kept with me at all times a document with all the critical info about my mom like her medications, dosages, brief health history, doctors, important numbers, health insurance policy numbers, contact info, etc… So when an emergency happened, I had the tools I needed at my fingertips to share the proper information. It reduced some of my worries because I was semi-prepared. I still had to manage the health crisis, emotions, doctor interactions, and mom’s well-being. But having some tools reinforced my resilience rather than worrying.

  • Kathleen Lauterbach

    Kathleen this is brilliant! Mary Oliver has nothing over you. Your Part 1 made me laugh. Isn’t it so true that all our aches and pains can consume us in worry! Just like owning two houses can ! I can’t tell you how many times I worried about getting breast cancer because I didn’t have enough mammograms. How many times I drove 50 miles and then became frantic over whether I turned off the oven.
    Your part 2 is just a great combination of techniques. I can’t tell you sometimes how guilty I feel if I throw away a recyclable can or bottle because I just can’t deal with spending 20 minutes scrubbing out peanut butter! I never thought about clearing the cache- a new trick for me to try!
    Anti-Worry Parties is going to be my new way to rationalize hours in front of a jigsaw puzzle and a Saturday filled with Netflix binging. Sounds so much grander to host an Anti-Worry party.

  • Kathleen Lauterbach

    I love the opening picture and quote! I usually imagine it working out and continue to get better at accepting however it works out as perfect. Our surprise for Ann’s 70th birthday didn’t go exactly as planned but our day together all worked out. It was better than the perfect imagined. Ann decided we should make Christmas cookies like we used to do pre-COVID. We simply rooted through her cabinets and worked backwards. We found recipes that had the things we had discovered instead of shopping for the ingredients in a particular cookie. It didn’t take a week of shopping and planning.

    Worry is sort of like bread dough. As it sits in your bowl it puffs up and keeps expanding.
    I used to be a person that let my worry rise for a long time. It would just keep getting bigger and more intense. Now I tend to punch it out a lot sooner. I find that if I just take action -even a small action my worry will dissipate. Now if I think I left the oven on I immediately turn the car around and go check! If I think I am lost I pull over and make a phone call or recheck the map app.

    I think it is probably impossible to be worry-free but I think a “make it work” attitude wherever you may be in the process has helped me bake my worry into something that may not be perfect but tastes pretty good.

    • Yota Schneider

      Kathy – I am so happy your visit with Ann worked even better than you had imagined. Isn’t that what happens when we let go of our worry and expectations of “perfect” and let it all happen the way it wants to? Makes me wonder how many times my attachment to having things be just so got in the way of being present, and seeing the goodness in what was.

      I love the many metaphors in your response … from baking delicious cookies with what you found in the cupboard instead of planning and shopping ahead to punching worry down before it rises too much. I give myself panic attacks because of candles. I love candles and I light them at all times of the day, especially first thing in the morning and when I work. I can’t tell you how many times I had to turn around to make sure I had blown the candle off. It’s as if my mind goes on overdrive … checking everything off the minute I get in my car and start driving away. It drives me nuts 🙂

    • Sarah Lipscomb

      Kathy, I love the visual with the bread! That’s such a great way to picture it because that’s exactly how it feels: expanding if you let it sit. But if you roll with it, then you can turn it into something still worth eating. Just like going with the flow of a situation and it all working out anyway. Really such a great metaphor!

    • Linda Samuels

      What a beautiful visual, Kathy, of worry like “bread dough.” And I love how you’ve come to peace with that dough. Instead of allowing it to expand beyond the bowl, you act before your worry gets too big. The analogy is wonderful, but your ability to make such conscious changes is downright inspiring.

    • Kim Cartwright

      Worry is sort of like bread dough… I punch it out. I love that imagery. Having a martial arts background, we (kids and I) often seek our padded targets when we are having an insurmountable day. Why not punch dough and eat it after.

  • Kathleen Ellis

    Kathy, your comment on cleaning out the peanut butter jar is perfect–how many days has mine sat in the sink waiting for the scrubber only to be finally tossed! I’m glad your party for Ann was even better than planned. A great lesson on letting things happen instead of worrying about everything going as planned. Baking your worry into cookies is wonderful–adding it to Gunilla’s bread metaphor.

  • Sarah Lipscomb

    I tell myself that worrying is a useless emotion to feel.. but what I tell myself and what I feel don’t always match up. So, in practicing feeling what I feel, I worry and stress and try to think through every possible situation, always ending up in the same spot: exactly where I’m meant to be feeling stupid for having worried in the first place.

    In reading the poem, I really resonated with the line “… will the earth turn as it was taught…” because the other day I literally had the thought: what if the moon falls out of gravity and crashes toward Earth? Like what is happening in my brain?! Especially bringing a new life into this universe, my mind just wanders to the most nonsensical places, but I always come back to the fact that I can only control what I can control. I think worry and stress are lousy friends and I don’t enjoy their presence in the apartment of my mind with my other tenants. However, unlike my tenants, stress was not invited and does not live there, so at the end of the night, he takes himself home away from me.

    Although he does return, unwelcome, I do my best to get him out when he comes to visit. I sit and focus on my breath and quiet my mind. Once my mind is quiet enough, I try to focus on doing something else. If I’m left to sit, my mind begins to wander again, but if I’m occupied, I can keep the unwanted guest ay bay. I think worrying is inevitable, but through all of our work and safe space together, I’ve found he’s not as scary of a guy as he used to be.

    • Linda Samuels

      Sarah- I understand how much space and time worry can occupy. Yet when we get in that loop, it can be really hard to turn it off or escort our worry guest out of the door, under the curb, or off into outer space.

      It also makes sense that your worry would hit new heights as you bring a new life into this world. Parenting brings an entirely new meaning to worry. It sounds like you have a wealth of tools to help remove your “unwelcome” guest. And if “he” decides to stay, at least you’ve found a way to co-exist in a less scary way. Bravo!

    • Kathleen Ellis

      Sarah, the moon falling out of gravity is the absolute best example of what our worrying minds are capable of! I cracked up and understood completely. You are so far ahead of where I was when I was pregnant with my son many years ago. Somehow I got dazzled by feeling in control and was sure I didn’t need any help. Let’s just say I was misguided. I love that you understand yourself so well and know that worrying is a big deal for you, and are developing the tools that work for you. Linda’s comment that you’re finding ways to co-exist when necessary is wonderful. Like Yota says, every night she has to show worry the back door. And Kathy punches the worry dough rather than let it keep rising. I’d say our group is the perfect one for worriers, and we’re there for you during this amazingly wonderful and worrisome time in your life.

    • Yota Schneider

      Dear Sarah,

      I’ve been here for some time now, reading this thread and conversation, and sitting with everyone’s words. Thankfully, the moon did not crash last night. Instead, it looked down upon us in all its fullness, and decided to gift us another day. 🙂 Phew 🙂

      One thing for sure, you have began to inhabit your mama bear skin beautifully. Your mind is taking you in all kinds of directions, trying to foresee, anticipate, and protect. Your hormones are building up, and so is the hyper awareness of what it means to bring a new life to the world. Yet, as Kathleen said, you are way ahead of where many of us were in your age. You are open, curious, and willing to entertain different possibilities of being. What a gift that is.

      Our emotions, all of them, are part of us. As Joseph Campbell once said, one we suppress the emotion we deem as “bad” we also suppress its other side. If we suppress worry, we also suppress our ability to anticipate and prepare; we suppress the cue, as Linda said. So, it comes down to how we engage with worry. At times we listen and prepare, and other times we go to battle, laugh it off, or kick worry to the curb. Not all reasons to worry are created equal.

    • Kim Cartwright

      Sarah, my kids had a Montessori education which is child-centered and exploratory. I learned years ago that to help them & me approach problem solving, we need the right tools. So we look to ‘get educated’, plan ahead, hope for the best, and then feel empowered and confident to either switch gears, abort or deal with the consequences if our plan isn’t sufficient. Most times the preparation/the journey is the gift, not the destination.

      So for me, Worry doesn’t really exist. Being aware and having a plan steps in and takes over – because worry is really a fear of the unknown outcome. I cover my bases, then jump in and have the confidence to believe it will go as planned or at least not derail entirely.

      I too struggle with ‘not matching up’. One of the only things which can bring me to WORRY is when I perceive people slight me, neglect me or dismiss me – especially hurtful of those for whom I trust and care. These gatherings have reminded me that I cannot be one who neglects or dismisses ME and that I must trust and care for ME. The rest will follow.

  • Linda Samuels

    You asked us, “How do you feel about worrying?” I HATE to worry. Why? Well, most of the time, I know my fears are unfounded. Whatever I’m obsessing about will not come to pass. After the thing I’ve worried about has come and gone (and NOT happened as feared), I feel like I wasted time and energy and feel a bit ridiculous too. Then I obsess on “Why did you spend so much time worrying about something that never happened, Linda?” So after doing this once too often, when worry starts, I try as best as possible to STOP it.

    How do I do that? Admittedly, I’m not always successful. But I’m an optimist and continue trying. I think of a phrase my uncle says, which greatly helps me. He says, “Let’s leave worry as a last resort.” What I love so much about that is it acknowledges there are times to worry. But it also encourages me not to use worry as my default mode. There are other options.

    So when I’m able, I view worry as a cue. It’s telling me something. Maybe it’s alerting me to actual danger. Perhaps it’s simply identifying an unfounded fear. It could be “catching” someone else who is worrying. Or maybe, it’s just my mind playing tricks. But if I can quickly figure out what the worry cue is about, then I can take the appropriate next step. Do something. Do nothing. Let it go. Move on.

    All easier said than done, but I continue working on it because, as I said at the top, I HATE to worry.

    One more thing. It was interesting how a few saw your worry friend as a “he.” I never thought about it this way, but my worry partner is a she…perhaps because I hear my voice in her ruminations.

    • Kathleen Ellis

      What a wonderful idea to think of worry as a cue–to look more closely at what’s happening and then decide what to do. I’m definitely adding this to my anti-worry techniques! It’s really a mindfulness attitude–let go of the negative or fearful labels and be with what’s actually there. Fear and worry probably stop us more than anything from taking the practical steps that can help us be prepared and move forward. The beautiful story you told about taking care of your mother during what must have been an incredibly difficult time is such a testament to the power of taking concrete steps to deal with an overwhelming situation, which allowed you to be present for your mother without completely stressing you out. For me, the lesson is always about asking for help with taking those steps and not letting worry and negativity cloud the path forward.

    • Yota Schneider

      Linda – I don’t think I’ve ever heard you HATE something before 🙂 Worry has a way of robbing us of what we hold dear, doesn’t it?

      I love that, along the way, you made the conscious choice to not let worry be your default mode and instead use her as a cue. This is how you have chosen to empower yourself and it showed in the way you managed the all-too-stressful situation when you had to care for your mom.

      As I read about your approach … Do something. Do nothing. Let it go. Move on … I got that image of a powerful woman whose plate has been full and is responsible for the well being of many. She has to make decisions – some of them hard – and she figured out a long time ago how to do that and still be grounded within herself and maintain her optimism.

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