WHY WORRY? CHAPTER XIX
HOME TREATMENT (CONTINUED)
BY: GEORGE LINCOLN WALTON, M.D.
CONSULTING NEUROLOGIST TO THE MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL
HOME TREATMENT (CONTINUED)
Happiness and success in life do not depend on circumstances, but on
The obsession to "arrive" is a fertile source of fret and worry. This habit
of mind leads to frantic and impatient labor and blocks our pleasure at
every point. The person who plays a game only to see who wins loses half
the benefit of the recreation. Here are two ways of walking the half-mile
to and from my office:
Suppose I start out with my mind on my destination, thinking only of what I
shall do when I get there, and how I shall do it. This thought influences
my whole body. I am all "keyed up," my muscles are tense, my breathing,
even, is constricted and the walk does me comparatively little good.
Suppose, now, I decide I am making a mistake, and determine to live in the
present. General relaxation follows, I take a deep breath, and begin to
notice my surroundings. I may even observe the sky-line of the buildings I
have passed daily for years without knowing they had a sky-line; my gait
becomes free and life takes on a different aspect. I have taken a long step
toward mental tranquility as well as gaining "power through repose."
One of the hardest obsessions to overcome is the unduly insistent habit
of mind regarding orderliness and cleanliness. It is not undue to desire
and practice a reasonable degree of these virtues, but when it gives one a
"fit" to see a picture slightly off the level, and drives one "wild" to see
a speck of dust, it is time to modify the ideal. This is the frame of mind
which encourages worry over trifles. If one really wishes to lessen worry
he must cultivate a certain degree of tolerance for what does not square
with his ideas, even if it does violence to a pet virtue..
The careful housekeeper may object that so long as she can regulate her
household to her liking, the habit of orderliness, even though extreme,
causes her no worry. But it is only the hermit housekeeper who can entirely
control her household. And further, the possessor of the over-orderly
temperament, whether applied to housekeeping, business, or play (if he ever
plays), is bound sooner or later to impinge his ideas of orderliness
upon the domain of other peoples' affairs, in which his wishes cannot be
paramount. In this event, at least, he will experience a worry only to be
allayed by learning to stand something he does not like.
Worry about the mental condition is disastrous. The habit should be
cultivated of taking the mind for what it is, and using it, wasting no
time in vain regrets that it is not nimbler or more profound. Just as the
digestion is impeded by solicitude, so the working of the brain is hampered
by using the energy in worry which should be devoted directly to the task
in hand. Children frequently worry because their memory is poor. It should
be explained to them that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred apparent
lack of memory is only lack of attention, and they should be urged to cease
distracting the attention by wandering in the fields of idle speculation or
in making frantic leaps to surmount imaginary obstacles.
It is important for parents of morbidly sensitive and over-scrupulous
children, with acute likes and dislikes, to discourage the tendency of the
child to become more and more peculiar. Sensitive children are inclined to
worry because they think others do not care for them or want them round. If
such children can be led to take a bird's-eye view of themselves, they may
be made to realize that others crave their society according as they are
helpful, entertaining, sympathetic, or tactful, because they instil courage
and give comfort. They should be urged, therefore, to cultivate these
qualities instead of wasting their energy in tears and recriminations; and
they should be encouraged to practice such of these traits as they can
master instead of becoming moody in society, or withdrawing to brood in
solitude, either of which errors may result in producing on the part of
others a genuine dislike. In other words, teach them to avoid enforcing too
far their ego on themselves or their environment.
Parents must also remember that over-solicitous attention on their part
is bound to react to the disadvantage of the child. The story is told of
Phillips Brooks that, when a child, he put a newly sharpened pencil into
his mouth further and further until it slipped down his throat. He asked
his mother what would happen if anyone should swallow a pencil. She
answered that she supposed it would kill him. Phillips kept silence, and
his mother made no further inquiry.
This incident would indicate that Phillips Brooks had already, as a child,
attained a mental equipoise which the average individual hardly achieves in
a lifetime. The story appeals to me no less as evidence of self-control
on the part of the mother; and I like to imagine that she suppressed the
question a startled parent naturally would ask, realizing that no amount of
worry would recall the pencil if he had swallowed it, and that nothing was
to be gained by overturning the household, or by giving the boy an example
of agitation sure to react to the detriment of the mind unfolding under
her supervision. Unless, therefore, the facts of this story have become
distorted by imagery, it shows exceptional heredity and unusual training.
Not every one can claim such heredity, and not every one can look back on
such training; but it is not too much to say that every one can so direct
his thoughts and so order his actions as gradually to attain a somewhat
higher level of self-control than either his mental endowment or his early
training would have promised. For mental training is no more limited to
feats of memory, and to practice in the solution of difficult problems,
than is physical training comprised in the lifting of heavy weights in
harness. In fact, such exercises are always in danger of leaving the mental
athlete intellectually muscle-bound, if I may use such an expression;
whereas the kind of training I have in mind tends to establish mental
poise, to improve the disposition, to fit the mind (and indirectly the
body) better to meet the varied exigencies of daily life, and to help the
individual to react in every way more comfortably to his surroundings.
I have only hinted at the detailed suggestions by which the worry habit and
allied faulty mental tendencies may be combated. The obsessive who is able
to alter his ideals and systematically pursue the line of thought here
sketched will himself find other directions in which control can be
exercised. It is true that no one is likely to reach any of the extreme
degrees of incapacity we have considered unless he is naturally endowed
with a mind predestined to unbalance. At the same time any of us who have a
nervous temperament ever so slightly above the average of intensity will
do well to check these tendencies as far as possible in their incipiency,
realizing that no physical evil we may dread can be worse than the lot of
the confirmed hypochondriac or the compulsively insane.
Perhaps I have dwelt too much upon the extreme results of morbid mental
tendencies, and too little upon the ideal for which we should strive.
This ideal I shall not attempt to portray, but leave it rather to the
imagination. Suffice it to say that the ladder by which self-control is
attained is so long that there is ample room to ascend and descend without
reaching either end. Some of us are started high on the ladder, some low;
but it is certainly within the power of each to alter somewhat his level.
We can slide down, but must climb up; and that such commonplaces as are
here presented may help some of my fellow worriers to gain a rung or two is
my earnest wish. Even when we slip back we can appreciate the sentiment of
"Night after night the cards were fairly shuffled
And fairly dealt, but still I got no hand.
The morning came, but
I with mind unruffled
Did simply say, 'I do not understand.'
"Life is a game of
whist; from unseen sources
The cards are shuffled and the hands are dealt.
Vain are our efforts
to control the forces,
Which, though unseen, are no less strongly felt.
"I do not like the way
the cards are shuffled,
But still I like the game and want to play,
And through the long,
long night with mind unruffled,
Play what I get until the dawn of day."
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Why Worry - Home Treatment (Continued)