Remember the huge 80s hit Don’t Worry, Be Happy? You gotta love Bobby McFerrin. And hate him at the same time because that song is so catchy.
Some of us fret about everything. It’s what we do. And the dark winter months just make it more addictive. As soon as we leave the house, we’re convinced we left the stove on. If anyone we know is flying, we think the plane is going to crash. As soon as we land our dream job, we think we’re going to lose it. “Don’t be happy! Worry!” is our motto.
We know this is counterproductive, stupid and unhealthy. Recent evidence even suggests that chronic brooding may have a greater impact than we imagined, specifically on memory.
Unfortunately, some studies suggest that a tendency to worry may be genetic. And when something is in your genes – well, then what?
What the experts say
“People who worry all the time tend to come up with worst-case scenarios. This is living from a ‘what if’ perspective. They have to learn to replace those thoughts as they come in and take responsibility for what they are spending their brain energy on. In winter, people are in hibernation mode emotionally. It’s naturally a time to re-evaluate your life. You can find yourself picking apart everything from your job to your relationships to what you haven’t accomplished. You have to go easy on yourself. If you’re just digging up bones for your critic, recognize that it could have more to do with sun deprivation than with real issues.”
LINDA TAYLOR, spiritual psychotherapist, Toronto
“The gene we’ve studied makes it more likely that you’ll worry, but it doesn’t mean it’s your destiny. There are some relatively simple steps you can take. One is to break the grip: distract yourself with some sort of activity. You can’t think yourself out of a bout of worry. The second step is to try to get a different perspective: look at the situation as your best friend might look at it. The third is to take some small step toward changing the situation.”
SUSAN NOLEN-HOEKSEMA, professor of psychology, Yale, New Haven, Connecticut, author, Women Who Think Too Much
“Will your worry actually lead to a to-do list today? Will you actually solve the problem today? If not, then it’s unproductive worry. If it’s unproductive worry, then you can do three things: accept your limitations in controlling things, repeat the worry slowly hundreds of times until you get bored, and focus on other things t0hat you can do in the present moment.”
ROBERT L. LEAHY, director, American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, New York City
“There is hardly anyone who does not suffer from chronic worry. It’s rampant. There are all kinds of tricks, like affirmations and deep breathing. Take five minutes a day to think about everything you’re worried about, and then let it go, because if you can’t deal with it at the moment, what’s the point? If your Bell bill is due and you can’t pay it, how is worrying going to help? Keep in mind that whatever you’re worrying about is going to pass. There’s a quote from Mark Twain about how all the things he worried about never occurred. A lot of what we worry about is so ephemeral it’s ridiculous.”
LINDA KABAN, life coach, Toronto
“We found that older people who tend to worry more are at greater risk of developing memory problems and, indeed, full-blown clinical Alzheimer’s. We have looked at animal studies and found that animals subjected to chronically stressful circumstances develop characteristic changes in the part of the brain called the limbic system and also develop memory problems. We now have a grant to see if these changes are also occurring in humans.”
ROBERT S. WILSON, professor, department of neurological and behavioural sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago