It’s human nature to worry. And it’s the nature of life to serve up trials for us to worry about. So is there really a way to escape the stress and anxiety of mortal living?
Many in the world would have you believe that worry is a built-in part of this life. Even further, they point to misfortunes as evidence of a cruel God who doesn’t rescue his children. Or they claim these setbacks are fate and you can’t do a thing about it. Or they say you should feel sorry for yourself and give in to circumstantial depression. Or you should take drugs or drink to numb the pain. Or pursue other self-indulgent ways to forget your troubles for a time, perhaps grab what you can before you go down with the ship. In short, the world’s solutions are blame, resent, give up, or become selfish. And definitely worry.
We don’t all succumb to the first four options, but most of us have fallen into the worry trap, often for years on end. And, even though we pray for help, we keep worrying.
Some of us, dubbed “worry warts,” tend to fret about everything, borrowing trouble before there’s even cause for concern. Someone plans a trip and they worry it will rain. They land a new job but then worry they won’t like their co-workers. We all know people like this, pessimists who assume the worst will happen, who wring their hands even before a storm cloud appears.
At the other end of the spectrum are folks who will never have high blood pressure, who look forward to every new experience expecting the best outcome. Sometimes they’re so convinced nothing bad could ever happen that they fail to take sensible precautions and then run out of gas or find themselves unable to pay bills.
Both of these groups are at the extreme edges; most of us fall somewhere in the middle. And that middle group, while not in the worry wart’s state of perpetual panic, still gets mired in stress from time to time. It’s easy to do, because challenges are intended to be part of earth life. They’re here to help us grow and to encourage us to turn to God.
So how can we get a handle on worry? Obviously we can mitigate many common problems by keeping the commandments-but what about those tribulations that simply happen, not of our causing? We could make a list a block long, of all the dreadful things that happen to good people, from family challenges to money woes to health concerns to safety issues-on and on. How can we not worry when beset by calamity?
The first step is to realize that worry is fruitless. It’s agreeing to be tangled in a knot of anxiety, with no hope. It doesn’t boost faith, it doesn’t even help us think straight. It’s almost a mild form of hysteria.
We need to turn our concern into planning mode. This isn’t just a matter of re-labeling the same feeling. It’s a conscious realization that fretting means we’re spinning our wheels. We need to calm down, perhaps get out a paper and pencil, and formulate a plan of action to address the problem.
My daughter is dating a boy we don’t trust. Instead of pacing through the house imagining worst case scenarios, or just expressing your worry to your spouse, make a plan. Sit down with your daughter and discuss your concerns. Listen. Pray together. Read her patriarchal blessing with her. Evaluate the relationship, and why she might choose a boyfriend like this. Review long-term and eternal goals. Set boundaries. Be the parent. When we take action, we are back in control of the situation, instead of being blown about by passing winds.
I’m scared I’ll lose my job. Meet with your boss. Find out the chances of layoffs, and whether you’re at risk. See if there are actions you can take to improve your value to the company. If your fears are unfounded, relax. If they’re real, take steps to find other employment, add to your education, and plan for the financial setback this may be. Once you’re doing all you can to meet the challenge, your stress level will drop.
My doctor says I’m at risk for Type 2 Diabetes if I don’t lose weight, but I just seem to be gaining. Here again, make a plan. Research a diet that will work for you and get help to stick to it. In small steps, adjust your lifestyle, cooking, and fitness habits to preserve your health. Involve your family and friends to help you. Think of every action you can take, and then take it. Even inching along in the right direction will reduce your anxiety.
That woman hurt my feelings and I can’t get over it. Implement the steps necessary to heal this wound. Hard as it is, forgiveness is in your power. Speak with the other person, and try to resolve the issue face to face. Be humble, seek to understand the other person’s side of things. If the person was intentionally cruel, be glad you were the victim instead of the villain. Pray for strength to set aside the injustice and move on-forgiveness frees us to grow, whether the other person is sorry or not.
In short, the key is to ask ourselves, “Is this actionable?” Is this something I can actually do something about? Instead of letting a problem fester and grow, or dancing around it in fear, calm down, and make a plan. Being decisive will put you back in the driver’s seat and give you a huge measure of relief. By formulating a strategy, then praying to see if God agrees with your proposal, you now have a game plan on a winning team.
And then, what if this is a disaster completely outside your control? Death, terminal illness, unwise choices of others, spiritual tragedy, physical ruin-these trials also come into our lives. And when the problem is completely outside your influence, this is also a time to realize that worry won’t help. Hand-wringing won’t help. Pacing won’t help. In fact, all these will do is increase your feelings of helplessness, and impact your physical health as well.
When matters are not within your control, when they are not actionable, this is when we must turn them entirely over to God. Only he can calm our troubled souls and bring us peace in adversity. He has given us hope for the eternities, assurance of his love, and a clear path to joy through Christ. This path is not easy, but it is the only one that leads to ultimate serenity. And, once again, we can take action-not to remove the obstacle, but to find companionship with our Savior as we make our way home.
We can keep our covenants, attend the temple, share the gospel, and lift those around us. In short, if we follow Christ we receive his healing balm. And worry has no place on that path.
Hilton’s LDS Nursery Rhymes is hot off the presses and can be purchased at the BYU Store, or at this link.
You can find her other books at www.jonihilton.com.
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