WHY WORRY? CHAPTER IV
ANALYSIS OF WORRY
BY: GEORGE LINCOLN WALTON, M.D.
CONSULTING NEUROLOGIST TO THE MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL
ANALYSIS OF WORRY
Of these points the principal and most urgent is that which reaches the passions; for passion is produced no otherwise than by a disappointment
of one's desires and an incurring of one's aversions. It is this which introduces perturbations, tumults, misfortunes, and calamities; this is
the spring of sorrow, lamentation and envy; this renders us envious and emulous, and incapable of hearing reason.
Under this rather pretentious title an attempt is made to indicate certain elements of worry. No claim is made that the treatment of the subject is exhaustive.
The motto "Don't Worry" has inspired many homilies. But the mere resolve to follow this guide to happiness will no more instantaneously free one from the meshes of worry than the resolve to perform a difficult gymnastic feat will insure its immediate accomplishment.
The evils of worry as well as of its frequent associate, anger, have been dwelt upon by writers philosophical, religious, and medical. "Worry,"
says one author [Horace Fletcher, "Menticulture - The A-B-C of True Living" (1895)] , "is the root of all cowardly passions,--jealousy, fear, the belittling of self, and all the introspective forms of depression are
the children of worry." The symptoms and the evil results seem to receive more elaborate and detailed attention than the treatment. "Eliminate
it," counsels this writer; "Don't worry," advises another. "Such advice is superficial," says their critic, "it can only be subdued by our
ascending into a higher atmosphere, where we are able to look down and comprehend the just proportions of life." "Cultivate a quiet and peaceful frame of
mind," urges another; and still another advises us to "occupy the mind with better things, and the best--is a habit of confidence and repose."
Relevant Article: Cultivating Peace of Mind
The average person usually gets little from such advice. Perhaps the last of these quotes comes the closest to practical advice, directing us to occupy the mind with better things; in the suggestions I have to offer the important feature is the effort to replace one thought by another, though not necessarily always a better one. If we succeed in doing this, we are making a step toward acquiring the habit of confidence and repose.
The simple admonition not to worry is like advising one not to walk
awkwardly who has never learned to walk otherwise. If we can find some of the simpler elements out of which worry is constructed,
and can learn to direct our attack against these, the proposition "Don't worry" will begin to assume a tangible form.
We can at least go back one step, and realize that it is by way of the unduly insistent thought that most of these faulty mental habits become
established. It might be claimed that fear deserves first mention, but the insistent thought in a way includes fear, and in many cases is independent
The insistent thought magnifies by concentration of attention, and by repetition, the origin of the worry. If my thoughts dwell on my desire for
an automobile this subject finally excludes all others, and the automobile becomes, for the time being, the most important thing in the world, hence I
worry. Into this worry comes no suggestion of fear--this emotion would be more appropriate, perhaps, if I acquired the automobile and attempted
to run it. If, now, I have trained myself to concentrate my attention elsewhere before such thoughts become coercive, the automobile quickly
assumes its proper relation to other things, and there is no occasion for worry. This habit of mind once acquired regarding the unessentials of life,
it is remarkable how quickly it adapts itself to really important matters.
Take a somewhat more serious question. I fear I may make a blunder. If I harbor the thought, my mind is so filled with the disastrous consequences
of the possible blunder that I finally either abandon the undertaking or approach it with a trepidation that invites failure. If, on the other hand,
I have learned to say that even if I make a blunder it will only add to my experience, then apply myself whole-minded to the task, I have made a
direct attack on worry.
The qualification unduly is not to be forgotten; a certain discrimination must be exercised before
entirely condemning the insistent thought. The insistent thought that one's family must be fed is not a morbid sign. In fact, he also errs who can
eliminate this thought and enjoy the ball game. It is not for the deviate of this type that I am writing. Nevertheless, the over-solicitous victim
of the "New England Conscience" can almost afford to take a few lessons from the ne'er-do-well.
The practical bearing of this attempt to analyze worry is obvious. If it is through the insistent desire for an automobile that I worry, I must
bring my training to bear, not on the worry, which is elusive, but on the desire, which is definite. I must fortify myself with what philosophy I can
acquire, and must console myself with such compensations as my situation may offer; and above all, I must get busy, and occupy hands and with something else.
If, on my travels, I worry over the sluggish movement of the train, it is because of the insistent thought that I must arrive on time. In this
event I should practice subduing the insistent thought, rather than vaguely direct my efforts against the worry. In the majority of cases I can bring myself to realize
that the question of my arrival is not vital. Even in case I am missing an important engagement I may modify the dominance of the thought by
reflecting that I cannot expect to be wholly immune from the misfortunes of mankind; it is due me, at least once in a lifetime, to miss an
important engagement,--why fret because this happens to be the appointed time? Why not occupy my thoughts more profitably than in rehearsing
the varied features of this unavoidable annoyance?
If we fret about the weather it is because of an insistent desire that the weather shall conform to our idea of its seasonableness. If we
complain of the chill of May it is not because the cold is really unbearable, but because we wonder if spring will ever come. If we fume on a hot day in
July it is because the weather is altogether too seasonable to suit us.
We spend far too much thought on the weather, a subject that really deserves little attention except by those whose livelihood and safety depend
upon it. Suppose a runaway passes the window at which we are sitting, with collar off, handkerchief to our heated brow, squirming to escape our
moist and clinging garments, and being generally miserable. We rush out of doors to watch his course, and for the next few minutes we do not know
whether it is hot or cold, perspiring less during our exertions, I strongly suspect, than we did while sitting in the chair. At all events,
it is obvious that our thoughts played quite as great
a part in our discomfort as did the heat of the day.
Suppose now, instead of devoting all our attention to the weather we should reason somewhat as follows:
As long as I live on this particular planet, I shall be subject perhaps three days out of four, to atmospheric conditions which do not suit me.
Is it worth my while to fret during those three days and to make it up by being elated on the fourth? Why not occupy myself with something else
and leave the weather for those who have no other resource? Or, as someone has said, why not "make friends with the weather?" If one will
cultivate this frame of mind he will be surprised to find that a certain physical relief will follow. In the first place, he will lessen the
excessive perspiration which is the invariable accompaniment of fret, and which in its turn produces more discomfort than the heat itself.
We have selected, so far, the comparatively unimportant sources of mental discomfort, fret, and worry. The reader who can truthfully say that such
annoyances play no part in his mental tribulations may pass them and accept congratulations. The reader who cannot be thus congratulated, but who
is impatient to attack the major sources of worry, must be reminded at this point
that he must practice on the little worries before he can accomplish anything with the great. The method is the same. The philosophy that will
make us content with the weather will do something toward establishing the mental poise which shall enable us to withstand with comparative
equanimity the most tragic of misfortunes that may fall to our lot.
To draw an example from the more serious disorders, let us consider the hypochondriac, who harbors the insistent thought that he must be always
perfectly well, that each of his sensations must conform to his ideal, and that each function must follow regulations imposed by himself. If he can
learn to ignore this thought by realizing that an acute illness is preferable to life-long mental captivity; if he can learn to do what others do,
and to concentrate his energies on outside affairs which shall displace the question of health; if he can learn to say "What I am
doing is more important than how I am feeling";
he will have cured his hypochondria.
In the foundation of the structure we are studying is found exaggerated self-consciousness.
Whatever is said, done, or left undone, by others is analyzed by the worrier with reference to its bearing on himself. If others are indifferent
it depresses him, if they appear interested they have an ulterior motive, if they look serious he must have displeased them, if they smile it is
because he is ridiculous. That they are thinking of their own affairs is the last thought to enter his mind.
I suppose it would be an affectation for any of us to deny that, as far as we are
concerned, we are the centre of the universe. This conceit does us no harm so long as we remember that there are as many centres of the universe as
there are people, cats, mice and other thinking animals. When we forget this our troubles begin. If I enter a strange shop and find they
desire security, need I take this as a reflection on my credit? Need I expect to be invited to
every entertainment I should like to attend, and to be excused from those that bore me, and shall I make no allowance for the attitude of my host?
Is it not rather egotistic for me to suppose that others are vitally interested in the fact that I blush, tremble, or am awkward? Why then should
I allow my conduct to be influenced by such trivial matters?
The order of training is, then, generally, to modify our self-consciousness by externalizing our thoughts and broadening our interests; specifically,
to eliminate the unduly insistent habit of thought.
Worry and Obsession
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