At age 10 my sister Cathy was sent to bed. She was not ill in the sense of chicken pox or flu. She had heard about the starving children in a war-torn part of the world and had worried herself sick. Nothing anyone said could relieve her of her worry. It was hers, and she wore it closely like a security blanket.
I knew exactly how she felt, because I was prone to worry too. She and I had a good teacher: Our mother was, until very recently, the mother of all worriers. And we came in second.
For example, one July morning at 4:00 a.m. I woke up in a cold sweat. I'd had a dream about my daughter's upcoming wedding in October, and I'd started to imagine all sorts of things going wrong: The food not being ample enough or right for the guests. People crashing the wedding reception. The minister getting lost. The dogs at home tearing the house apart. Not enough places for everyone to sleep. A flood, an earthquake, a bad haircut.
When I told my husband what had kept me awake all night, he had a chuckle. He's a live-in-the-moment kind of guy. He doesn't think past the next 24 hours. So the thought of worrying about something so far in the future was foreign to him.
Lucky him, I thought, and good thing I'm here to worry about things!
There is comfort in being a worrywart. Sometimes I think we worriers see it as a sign of being sincerely concerned. Or we mistakenly think that only we can solve the world's problems by worrying.
When I moved out of my parents' house at the age of 20, there was that hug and look in my mother's eyes. "Call me. I'll worry about you," she said, as if I were off to Africa and not to the next town.
I made the fatal mistake of not taking her seriously. Then when I didn't call, my father finally called me. "Your mom's in bed, you know. Got one of her migraines 'cause of you."
I apologized, but guilt was mine to carry. "I was worried sick!" my mother told me later.
My mother has worried herself sick-literally. At age 70 she has developed blindness due to the stress she has pushed herself to endure. She has migraines and stomach problems that have required surgery. She can't hold down food and has developed strange allergies and skin conditions. The sad thing is that most of these problems are related to stress, real to her in the form of worry.
Mother has worried constantly since I can remember, and only now does she realize the toll she has placed on her body and her life. Only now does she see that she should have thought more positively, and she should have trusted more in a power much greater than herself. She should have trusted in God.
Fortunately, she's changing. If my mother finds herself worrying about someone or something, she offers up a prayer and then moves on to something else. It's not as easy as it sounds, but with practice she has managed to start regaining back her health.
She has also discovered the power of imagination. Whenever she finds herself imagining all kinds of bad things happening, she stops. She sends out balloons into the scene. She sends in clowns. She adds a rainbow. She visualizes the best thing that can happen and imagines it so.
But above all, she now trusts in God; she has faith that even without her worries, the world will pull through.
I know from my mother's and my own experience that worry is a hard habit to break. But if you tend to worry, here are a few steps you can take to stop the stress.
1 Don't give in to worry. Ask yourself, "Will worry solve anything? Does it make things better? Or is it simply an excuse to feel helpless-or superior-for only I can solve the world's problems by worrying?" Try to act on those things you can do something about and accept those you cannot. "Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not" (Matthew 6:27, NLT).*
2 Dedicate your thoughts to positive images. Instead of expecting the worst, pray for the best outcome. Jesus said, "Have faith in God. . . . Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:22-24). When you need help thinking positively, ask God to help you. "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).
3 Trust in God. He's the only one who can solve the world's problems. And Jesus told us, "Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today" (Matthew 6:32-34, NLT).
Stop the worry cycle and live a healthier life because of it.
Life is too short to spend wallowing in trepidation.
Choose not to worry!
* Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (c) 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
Nancy Bennett is a freelance writer in British Columbia. She enjoys animals and spending time outdoors. A mother of two from a long line of champion worriers, she has resolved that this year she will try to not worry about the kids . . .