I come from a long line of worriers. Take, for example, my German grandmother who lived to be 106. Upon waking, she shook off the blissful forgetfulness of Morpheus with this question: “What do I have to worry about today?”
She may have lived long, but I’m not sure if she prospered. I imagine that her mornings might have been much more enjoyable if she hadn’t been wringing her hands over what the neighbors thought of her wilting pachysandra or whether her daughters’ reputations were sufficiently regarded. (That she had a cat-o-nine-tails and that she actually used it on my mother’s ankles we’ll leave for later.) Looking back, my guess is that she suffered from a deep, dark strain of depression that today would be cured with therapy and Prozac
Still, the “worry gene,” as it came to be known in our family, was handily passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter to granddaughter. Fortunately, my father, who was not without his warts, trust me, eschewed worry despite a much more unstable background than my grandmother. His philosophy was worrying accomplished absolutely nothing and he fell asleep by nine, woke at six. (Vodka helped.) In contrast, my mother’s family clung to the superstition that failure to worry was the mark of an indulgent hubris which the gods would punish by inflicting treble damages.
Their choice to worry – because I do believe it’s a choice – resulted in bad outcomes, from persistent anxiety to terminal Schadenfreude, the worrier’s Oxycontin. Sure, we have problems but THEIR problems are even worse. I can’t blame their cancers specifically on worry since I doubt even constant handwringing can alter our DNA; but I can’t say it helped their stress. Nor did the fact that, as a rule, these women awoke at 3 a.m. bathed in cold sweats about their family finances and whether there’d be enough money the following year or even the year after that.
So, how did I break from this vicious cycle having spent every minute of my childhood worrying about tests and grades and whether my friends liked me? Well, there’s wine, for starters….
The truth is, I haven’t completely broken free and I am envious of anyone who has. I feel like the alcoholic who is in constant recovery. But I have learned a few tricks and here they are:
- Writing lists. In the same way witches cast spells by burning their wishes, whatever my worry is, I write it down and then crumble it up (crumbling is key, tearing is a close second) and throw it in the trash. There’s something about this act that minimizes the concern’s impact.
- Writing fiction. If only because it spiritually removes me from my worry-based reality into someone else’s fantasy. Writing fiction is like a vacation for my brain, better than a real vacation since I tend to worry a lot when I’m on the beach, doing nothing but worrying about how much money I’m spending.
- Bananas. Eat a banana. You’ll feel better. Also, a cup of tea. And toast with strawberry jam.
- Make an appointment with yourself. If you wake at night in a cold sweat, make an appointment with yourself to address the issue at, say, 8:30 a.m. the next day. Nothing can be done between 1 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. so you might as well sleep. Because the chemicals in your brain are so messed up in the middle of the night, your brain is not functioning logically. It’s doing other stuff and it’s screwing with your head. When it’s back to normal in the morning, you’ll find that, surprisingly, you can deal. But you still have to keep the appointment.
- Remember: Nothing is Permanent. Not fear. Not happiness. This is a hard concept to grasp when you’re young, but when you’re an old fart like me, it’s a delightfully refreshing realization. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is permanent. Say it over and over until it becomes surreal. Dust in the wind, that’s all we are, folks.
Speaking of which, when I’m really panicked at night, this is my go-to video, if only for the shirts and the goofy fading. You’re welcome.
Hope this helps and if it doesn’t, FB message me if you can’t sleep. You never know, I might just be up.