You worry. As a mother, there are a thousand things every day that might send your thoughts spinning into a deep dark pit of despair. For instance, 10 days after his first MMR shot, my youngest son developed a fever. It’s a completely normal reaction among a small percentage of children according to the ever-illuminating Google, and yet. Our thermometer isn’t always reliable and I wonder what if it’s a lot higher than the gauge is telling me. He’s been asleep now since 6 A.M., it’s 10. What if he had some sort of episode I wasn’t aware of and he’s in a coma or had a seizure or worse!
I don’t suffer from a panic disorder. For some people, I can imagine such thoughts may be truly debilitating. A quiet thought comes and eventually goes but leaves a little drop of worry in my chest cavity.
You don’t have to be a parent to be familiar with this kind of “what if” thinking. In life, we do it often. What if I don’t wake up in time in the morning, what if she doesn’t like me as much as I like her, what if I make an ass of myself. It has taken me until now, nearly 40, to realize and accept that all of that is ok. So what if I do make an ass of myself? And admittedly, it’s still a work in progress, as I keep finding new and exciting ways to be an ass.
The self-help gurus agree that worry is all about fear of the unknown, of things that haven’t happened and very likely never will. So what do we do with those thoughts? There are a lot of recommendations out there. Sit with the negative emotions, acknowledge them and then let them go. Go for a run or dance or Yoga class and move that stuck energy around. Use positive affirmations to change the thought patterns. Buy a bottle of whiskey and drown out the voices. Ok, maybe not the last one so much.
There is a Buddhist flow-chart I saw once describing worry. When you have a problem ask yourself: Is there something I can do about it? If the answer is yes then don’t worry. If the answer is no then don’t worry. Life exists in the physical but we apply mental meaning over and over again. While our mental habits have huge impacts on how we interact with the physical world, the reality is that there is action or no action. Do or do not do. Everything else is the story we make up about the doing or not doing.
I love to explore ideas and make things more complicated than they need to be. I also love those moments of shutting off my mental chatter, when I’m walking in the woods just to enjoy the forest, when I’m breathing and moving on the mat and feel a shift, and spending time with my boys on their level when I remember how easy it is to access that fun and play. The times of simplifying and turning the story down a bit.
My 4-year old son always requests a song for bed while I rub his back and he usually sings along. Lately our favorite duet has been “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. In case you don’t remember the lyrics they go:
Don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing is gonna be all right.
Singing don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing is gonna be all right.
Rise up this morning, smile with the rising sun, three little birds sat by my doorstep, singing sweet songs, a melody pure and true, this is my message to you hoo hoo.
Singing don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing is going to be all right.”
To hear a sweet, pure voice sing those words brings me right back to reality. Even if everything isn’t going to be all right, I want my sons moving through life like it is. And if I want it for them, why not for me as well? And everyone? As life happens and throws things your way, either there’s something you can do about it or there’s not. While it might not stop the worry thoughts all together, take a deep breath, take a walk, chase your kids around the house with a pirate hat and a whisk sword, or sing a little Bob Marley and see if that tension in your chest and jaw doesn’t release a little bit.