Ever lain awake, worries circling like vultures, plucking your nerves? Then you’ll know that night terrors rarely precipitate firm decisions or plans of action, but more often quaking bones, exhaustion and a sense of helplessness. Never is worry so useless.
‘Feasting on maggots’, the Chinese phrase for nocturnal fretting, perfectly captures its futility and the nausea that results. Interestingly, the earliest meaning of worry in old English was ‘to kill by compressing the throat’ (as dogs ‘worry’ sheep). And it’s because worry can paralyse that hawks like Roosevelt and Francis Bacon warned that our greatest fear ought to be fear itself. Even placid American poet-philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson held, ‘Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.’ Still, it’s unwise to dismiss worry altogether.
Winston Churchill dubbed his depressions the black dog, an apt metaphor for a mental state so clotted with dread. But rather than dog us, worry can help to lead us where we need to go. After all, our cares are our priorities, full of information, so contemplating them may further our goals. Why not ask what lies behind your dread. Is it fear of change or taking responsibility, of being abandoned or judged? The next question is, does this fear keep you safe, as it may have once, when you were young? Or does it stand between you and what you want?
While deconstructing your fears, in meantime you could learn to care less with the Blyth just-in-time worrying system, which was inspired by contemporary retail. Shops reduce their storage costs and prevent overstocking by having goods delivered at the last possible moment. Likewise, you can economise on worry. Just list problems as they occur to you, setting aside a regular slot (once or twice a week) to consider them, refusing to give angst free rein until you’re in a position to master it.
Remember that fear is simply imagination. It can be creative, and practical, if you let it. Allow worry to stir up your synapses, walk you through your options, foreseeing their consequences, and you build an informed basis for action. Worry about someone else – better still, imagine their predicament from their point of view – and you exercise the priceless skill of mind-reading, which made Homo sapiens the king of the jungle, and laid the foundations of society.