Mind the Gap

I have a long list of things I would like to change about myself, and I’m not just talking about my physical appearance.  I would love to have a good singing voice, and not to be quite so afraid of heights, and I wish that I had a better memory, especially for names.  But if I could change just one thing about myself, I would choose to stop worrying so much.  Because the fact is that I worry pretty much all the time, about almost everything.  And it doesn’t do me one bit of good, because the stuff I worry about rarely happens, and the bad things that happen in my life are usually things I didn’t see coming at all.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I spent the weekend with our family at my brother-in-law’s lake house, and on our first night there, we all piled into his boat for a “sunset cruise” which we enjoyed very much.  It was dark when we returned to the dock, and my brother-in-law warned us all to be careful stepping out of the boat because the dock could rock a bit.

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Being me, I immediately worried that I would drop my cell phone in the lake, and so I clutched it tightly as I carefully put my right foot on the deck.  Thankful that I had been able to maintain my balance, I quickly swung my left foot out and placed it, inadvertently, in a gap between the two parts of the dock.  My foot and lower leg plunged into the water, but my fall was stopped abruptly and painfully by my upper thigh, which was too big to fit through the gap.  It was the first time in my life that I was actually thankful for my chubby thighs.

I had worried that I would drop my cell phone (which I had brought along so I could take pictures of the lake) in the water, and that didn’t happen.  Even as I was suspended with one foot on the dock and the other foot in the lake, I still managed to hang on to my phone. It never crossed my mind that I might actually put my foot through a gap in the dock, even though that’s exactly what did happen.   Once again, I had wasted a lot of emotional energy worrying about all the wrong things.

That’s why I am making a very dedicated effort to stop worrying so much.  It’s not that I’m going to pretend that everything is always going to be fine and that nothing bad will ever happen, because I know better than that.  All of us have hard times in life, and all of us will experience our share of accidents and tragedies.  But constantly worrying about what could go wrong does nothing to prevent bad things from happening, and only serves to put too much focus on the negative aspects of life.

So I think what I need to do is learn to take sensible precautions, (such as the “mind the gap” signs I saw on the Irish Railway, warning passengers to beware of the gap between the train cars and the platform), but stop obsessing about every single thing that could possibly go wrong in any given situation.  Because life is too short and precious to waste it worrying about what might go wrong, when I could be enjoying all that is going so very right.

46 thoughts on “Mind the Gap

  1. Somebody once told me that 95% of what we worry about happening to us never will. Insurance companies know that statistic! When was the last time you heard about an Insurance company having financial difficulties!!!!

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  2. A good idea to tackle it, Ann, before it becomes habituated irreversibly. I believe psychologists have a term for excessive and unnecessary worry – ‘catastrophe thinking’. That’s a rather dramatic way of describing the conjuring of many minor anxieties, but it’s a common trait these days, I gather. The mind ingrains habits so easily, doesn’t it? I think of it like a plough burying into a furrow and not being able to skip out of it. As you so rightly suggest, it’s all a question of finding a healthy balance between exercising wise precaution and being able to live life with a certain lightness of spirit. Most of us over-compensate one way or the other, but it’s all a learning process, it seems, and one wouldn’t want it any different.

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    • For a long time, I just accepted the fact that I was “a worrier.” But it does start to get overwhelming after a while, and causes me to see the world as a worse place than it actually is. (Besides doing very little good.) So, I have been making an effort to simply be a bit cautious, which can be a good thing, but to stop worrying. And I’m getting there, although as you pointed out, old habits are hard to lose!

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      • As a point of interest, I have a very good lady friend who had a similar issue for several decades, and who completely cleared it by practising Buddhist Vipassana meditation – that’s the original form of what modern psychology generally refers to as mindfulness meditation. Of course, all meditation is demanding of time and discipline, so it’s not for everyone, but the authentic and original Vipassana would definitely be one answer, Ann. I wish you well with your continuing efforts, and the very fact that you have the self-awareness to recognise the matter means you’re half way there.

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  3. Good luck with that, it seems sensible.
    When we first moved to here to a rural area (from a city), I had a really strange feeling in the car one day (my husband drives, I’m the passenger). It felt to me like something was missing, or that I’d forgotten something. I couldn’t put my finger on it,then I looked down and realised that I’d not brought with me the multitude of stuff that usually did – all the ‘in case of’ stuff that I’d usually stuffed into bags when going out. And do you know what I realised? That what was missing was my anxieties. I’d left them behind and all the stuff that went with them. Unfortunately, some returned, but I’m much better than I was. I hope you an get to that stage, too.

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    • What a great insight! I’m glad you got to that point, even if you aren’t as far along as you’d like to be. I’m not either, but am working on it. It’s hard for me to let go of the stuff I can’t control anyway, but I hope to get there someday.

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  4. I have been a worrier since I was little. My Aunt told me when I was 3 I bumped my Mom by accident and scratched her cornea. She told me: don’t worry she’ll be OK. But I replied: I want to worry! But I’ve gotten better over the years, with athletics, yoga, breathing, mediation and being in emergency medicine. I’ve learned that it’s just not worth sweating the small stuff most days because we may just not have the time here on earth to bother… 🙂

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    • Exactly! It’s sort of like trying to change our DNA! But I do think I can improve, at least somewhat, and I’ve managed to improve a bit. I think worrying will always come naturally to me, but that doesn’t mean I have to let it be overwhelming. Thanks, Jodi!

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  5. I feel your pain, Ann. I’m a huge worrier, too. I am starting to think that I am manifesting the things I worry about. I once read that worrying is about trying to control things we have no control over. I think it’s part that and part fear.

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    • That makes sense to me! Because often when I’m worrying, I’m also thinking of exactly how I will respond to various problems, which is, of course, a lot like trying to control them. And sometimes I think that I create problems by worrying about them, which is why I’m trying to stop doing that. I agree that worry not only causes fear, but it comes from fear, too!

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  6. As usual I can totally relate to your post. I am a worrier to the nth degree. I fantasize all the terrible things that can happen to my family and I have at times convinced myself that if I let my guard down nd stop worrying they will come true. How neurotic is that?!? So your advice is sound and resonates with me and I will try to heed it. A favorite line of mine in a John Lennon song called Beautiful Boy is “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”.

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    • Believe me, I can relate! I think part of the problem with having a good imagination is that we can so easily imagine all the awful things that can happen to us and the ones we love. I don’t know about you, but I do find that having a creative outlet helps me worry less, I guess because I have something positive to focus my imagination. But I’m also trying to remember that there is a difference between simply being prepared in a common sense way and worrying constantly about what can possibly go wrong. The first can be helpful, but the second is destructive. And I love that lyric! Thanks for sharing it….

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  7. Letting go is so freeing Ann. I love Val’s approach. I can relate as I used to a carrier of all things “just in case”.
    When we want to stop doing something habitual, it can help to replace it with something else. Replacing thinking about what might go wrong in the future, with bringing our attention to the present moment, is one solution. Just as Hariod suggested with meditation. It trains the mind to let go of thinking about the future and the past, and brings us into the here and now.
    Having a saying, or taking an action can also break the habit.
    When I was giving up cigarettes I put an elastic band around my wrist. When I felt the urge, I would snap the band. That worked until I didn’t need to do it any more…. You don’t need to hurt yourself though!
    Think about what you could do right at that moment when you notice your mind going into “worry mode”.

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    • Thanks for the advice! I think that is one of the reasons I enjoy your blog so much: it’s always reminding me to live in the moment, and to let go of fretting about the past or worrying about the future. I like the idea of having a specific thought or action to “go to” as soon as I begin to fall back on my old “worrying pattern.”

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  8. I think one good thing you could try, that I do when I’m feeling stressed or down, is each day look for the positives. This is not as easy as it sounds because the world is so determined to only point out the negatives. And when one is stressed or worrying it can take a lot of work and practice to find the positives, but……look for the positives, no matter how small or big. Sometimes you may have such a bad day that you may find only one positive (or only one thing you think is a positive) but find it! I promise, before too long, you will find lots of positives. I practiced this, a lot, while going through my divorce, and after I had to move, due to my divorce. Sometimes the only positive *I* could see was that first cup of coffee in the morning, or a flower blooming in the garden, or a walk with my dog, but……..eventually you begin to see all the little things that make up big things that are huge positives. It doesn’t always chase away all stress or worry, but it can sure make the day easier. More importantly, it helps to put many things into perspective.

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    • That is very good advice, and similar to what Val was talking about, too, I think. You’re right, there is so much we are told to be afraid of these days, almost constantly, that it is far too easy to focus on the negative to the point where we aren’t even aware of the positive anymore. By intentionally seeking out the positives, I’m forced to acknowledge them, and that automatically lessens my level of worry. I’m going to try that, as well as “living in the moment” and even mediation! That’s one thing I really like about blogging–how generous people are in sharing their life experiences and advice! Thank you!

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  9. Another blogging friend of mind posted these lyrics from the Broadway play “Rent”. I thought you might enjoy seeing them because if you replace the word “regret” with “worry” I think it fits right in with what you are trying to practice for yourself. For me, I still work hard at not having “regrets” so it’s good for me, too. 🙂

    There’s only us
    There’s only this
    Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.
    No other road
    No other way
    No day but today

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  10. It’s something my sister and I have always said, that when the Bad Thing happens it’s never the thing you’ve been worrying about. I wonder if we should just worry generally, therefore – have a kind of ‘reserve’ of worry that could be apportioned to any disaster, retrospectively.

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    • You know, I’ve gotten a lot of good advice on this comment thread, but yours is the only one that made me laugh out loud! Thank you for that! And I kind of like having a reserve of worry, as long as it is tucked away somewhere, out of sight. Then, if I need it, it’s there. And because I know it is there, I don’t have to waste any more of my time and energy worrying about new things, because I know I’ve got it covered.
      I also agree with you and your sister. The bad thing we worry about is rarely the bad thing we actually worried about!

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  11. That could be a life long battle, Ann. Like most people, I worry, too. But I don’t usually sweat the small stuff. I think so much of what we worry about is a matter of perspective. I would always ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen? If I can handle the worst that can happen, then it’s not so bad.
    We all believe that what we worry about is important to our lives and serves a significant purpose. Now, if I ever find myself getting wound up about things I think are important, I remember the faces of those kids I saw when my grandson was going for chemo at Sloan Kettering. I think about those parents and understand what real worry is. Then I kick myself in the butt and what bothered me seems to fade away.
    It’s all a matter of perspective.

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    • I think you are right, and that this is something I will always be battling, even if I manage to cut way back on my level of worrying. I think it will be just a little like an alcoholic always having to be careful around alcohol, because excessive worrying comes naturally to me. I do sweat the small stuff, but am slowly learning not to. And I also like to think, “what’s the worst that can happen?” because if I have a plan for that, then I worry less. (Which might not be a bad thing.)
      But ultimately, most of my worrying is rather useless, and compared to the people who have real things to worry about…illness of a loved one, living in a war-torn country, etc…..it’s almost self-indulgent. And that’s a perspective I need to keep in mind. Your image of the other parents of the kids who were battling cancer is one I am going to remember, because it will definitely help me keep my perspective. Thanks, George!

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  12. I was nodding all the way through this post Ann because you sound just like me! I’ve always been a worrier but have realised as I’ve got older it serves no purpose. Better to focus on what’s happening now and what’s right in front of us which is what I try and do in my life now. It’s not always easy but still we can keep trying. Thanks for the reminders Ann. Great post.

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  13. Incessant worrying can be such a waste of time. Most of the disasters we fear come nowhere near us. We spend hours on end stressed out about this bill or that meeting, but it’s the unexpected acme anvil on the head that always seems to get us in the end.

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    • I know! That’s why I’m trying to get it under control. I remember telling a friend once, “It’s like we’re standing on a highway, staring in horror at the tiny little mini-bike that’s heading straight towards us. And we’re so busy obsessing about that, when the mini-bike will simply swerve around us, that we don’t turn around as see the huge Mack truck that is actually going to hit us!” A little paranoid, I admit, but you get the picture: we rarely see the bad things that are actually going to happen, and all the stuff we worry about never actually materializes at all. So, as you say, worrying is just a giant waste of time!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. At the beginning of the post I feared that you seriously injured yourself when your foot slipped into the gap. I’m so glad that all turned out okay. So much that we worry about never happens – so it isn’t worth worrying about things. That said, I’ve found that it’s easier to say not to worry than to actually not worry. 🙂

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    • I was lucky, in that all I got were some rather large and painful bruises! And they have faded away, leaving me with only a lump that will also go away in time. My husband, who saw it happen, said I could have easily blown my whole knee out, so I am very thankful.
      And like you, I find it much easier to say I’m not going to worry rather than actually not worry! But all we can do is try.

      Like

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