Patrick Ward words, code, and music

How I Stopped Doping On Worry

I’ve been a worrier for a good portion of my life. It’s only been in recent years, however, that I’ve begun to understand the debilitating characteristics of this habit. In fact, it’s been more of a slow cancer eating away at the precious moments of my life, preventing me from growing as a conscious being.

At it’s heart, worry is like a designer drug made just for you. It has full access to all of the memories, idiosyncrasies, and fears that make up the subconscious you. It uses this access to convince you of the most horrifying and uncontrollable images you can anticipate. Like all drugs it’s not easily kicked, but unlike all the rest it’s something nearly every human being is addicted to in some form or another.

Now, some psychologists claim worry can be a good thing. For instance, they claim worry keeps me driving safe on my motorcycle, ensures I buy homeowner’s insurance each year, and prevents me from engaging in no holds barred bed-hopping throughout the city. Do I follow these practices because I worry? Or, do I follow them because they are a more intelligent way to live my life?

Certainly worry, if held in check, can be a positive influence, just as fear can be a motivator to practical action. Yet, more often than not, I use worry as my own personal version of a really good designer high — like all functioning junkies, I can hide my high from even the closest of friends. My worry keeps me from making progress, from taking those calculated risks that will move me beyond my comfort zone. My worry keeps me right where my primitive mind likes it: safe and sound in the present situation and blind to the opportunities that await me.

But that’s just not good enough anymore. Because, somewhere in the last year or so, my mind started seeing past the worry and pushing past the imaginary boundaries of this neutral state of existence I’ve been in.

I’ve begun to take calculated risks and allow myself to ride the chaotic uncertainty of new experiences. To my surprise, most of my worries turned out to be mental mirages, anxieties without foundation.

For instance, adopting a vegan lifestyle brought with it medical, social, culinary, and philosophical anxieties; all of which slowly melted away as I became more skilled at dealing with each of them. In fact, during this ninth month of living vegan I’m finding more positive experiences than negative ones. None of the negative situations I imagined myself in ever appeared in reality.

I recently agonized about leaving my dogs alone with a pet sitter for six days, imagining coming home to a serious psychological, or even worse, fatal situation for either of them. It seems silly now, but for several months prior to my trip it plagued my daily thoughts — I was almost convinced I shouldn’t go because I felt guilty about leaving them alone for the first time. The reality of that situation turned out to be the exact opposite. They had a fantastic time and had excellent care by a conscientious sitter during my absence. By the second day of updates, I was able to relax and enjoy my trip. It only took 3 months and 2 days of constant worrying to realize that I had nothing to worry about.

Speaking of my recent trip, that too was a source of consistent anxiety. Would I have the courage to engage in it socially? Would I be found as an intellectual fraud? Would I be the emotional drain to an otherwise positive experience for others? The purpose of the trip was to explore my social connections, realize new potentials, and learn more about myself, but my worries negated every favorable result I could anticipate. In actuality, I experienced more growth than I even dared imagine. I consciously pushed beyond the neutral zone and engaged it with as much self-confidence as I could muster.

It seems that the worry drug can mutate as well. For, even as I basked in the remarkable fortune I found while at the conference, I seemed to find time to worry about the people I met there. If, for instance, I didn’t hook up with the same group the following day, I started to wonder if I’d said or done something stupid! Why weren’t things the same from one day to the next? This chaos was too much for a persistent worrier such as myself. Yet again, my reality proved far more fortunate than the cynical illusions I imagined. For, in each case I met up with those new friends later that day or the next. I began to enjoy meeting as many people as I could and stopped distressing over petty social concerns that held no worth.

Writing these blog entries are another source of recent worry. Yet, the more I write them and set them free, the less I worry about it.

Of course, my worries far exceed the few examples given here. Yet, in each case, when I’ve decided to deny my anxieties to take root, I’ve found that my experiences have been better than the most positive outcomes I could have imagined. When I stopped giving my power over to the designer drug of worry, I began to build up a stronger sense of self.

I began to realize that the worry was not something impenetrable, that in fact, it was something I had control over. If anything, the worry was an indicator that I may not have the skill, knowledge, or emotional anchor I needed to deal with the situation I was concerned about. So, in each anxious filled circumstance, I began to learn more about it, to strengthen those areas that I felt the most lacking in. As I gathered more information, became more proficient in dealing with the demands of these new experiences, and took a stable review of them in my mind, I began to overcome the mental obstacles that fed my worry in the first place. They began to dissipate like clouds after a thunderstorm.

So, when you find yourself strung out on worry, remember you have control over that drug. Take the steps to alleviate your anxieties by finding out more about those fears. Make sure your worries are based in reality and not false information; understand the source of those worries. Learn what skills you’ll need to maneuver the demands of that path and then find the courage to start walking it. You do yourself and others more of a disservice by feeding your anxieties than you do by confronting them head on. And, most of all, enjoy the journey. For, no matter what happens, it’s still your life; your reality.