Despite the fact I’ve never heard of a hot water system randomly exploding and injuring anyone… I will not let my baby crawl around near ours while I’m hanging clothes on the line.
Similarly, despite the fact that I’ve never heard of a car spontaneously combusting while being filled with petrol, I really hate having my kids in the car at the petrol station.
Yes, that’s right. Like many people I know, I spend large chunks of my day perceiving danger everywhere I look and worrying someone I love is going to get hurt.
Why do people worry?
I know why I worry.
It’s because I’m a control freak and believe that by worrying about something, I can control it into not happening. Also, being a control freak, I cannot bear the thought of being blindsided… of having something happen to me I never saw coming.
This means every migraine I have is a brain tumour, every sore spot under my armpits is leukaemia, and every rash my baby has is meningococcal.
The irony? The stuff I worry about never happens. But other shitty stuff does.
I worried for years about my partner, siblings, parents – anyone I loved basically – driving late at night and being killed by someone drunk driving. Then I lost my brother in a car accident. One that happened in broad daylight, on a completely run-of-the-mill Thursday afternoon – no alcohol involved.
For years, I worried about athlete friends of mine being hit by a car whilst out on their bikes. Then one of those friends died from heart failure in the middle of a run he’d been doing for 10+ years.
Both these things completely rocked my world and the fact that I hadn’t worried about losing a sibling or a friend in those ways made zero difference to how I coped.
Which makes me suspect worrying might be pretty pointless.
James Gordon Gilkey certainly thinks so.
In a book that’s really stood the test of time (it was written in 1934), Gilkey states how he studied his fears and found they fell into five distinct categories:
- Worries about disasters which, as later events proved, never happened. About 40 per cent of his anxieties.
- Worries about decisions he had made in the past, decisions about which he could now of course do nothing. About 30 per cent of his anxieties.
- Worries about possible sickness and a possible nervous breakdown, neither of which materialized. About 12 per cent of his worries.
- Worries about his children and friends, worries arising from the fact that he forgot these people had an ordinary amount of common sense. About 10 per cent of his worries.
- Worries that have a real foundation. Possibly 8 per cent of the total.
Gilkey then offers this as the ‘the first step in the conquest of his anxiety’:
It is to limit my worrying to the few perils in the fifth group. This simple act will eliminate 92 per cent of my fears. Or, to figure the matter differently, it will leave me free from worry 92 per cent of the time.
Now, this is solid advice. And for anyone out there able to disperse their worries by activating the above… awesome. Please do so!