Worried About Worry
Updated: Mar 19
We worry every day. We wake up and worry about what we are going to have for breakfast. We worry about if we are going to make it to work on time. We worry if people will like what we are wearing. The list goes on. Then we get home after work to relax, and we go to bed and worry about the next day. A tiresome cycle that never ends. And this is fine. We need to worry. It is our brain preparing us for the future. However, it is when you fall into a constant state of worry that you develop the dysfunctional disposition of anxiety. Then, the quantity and intensity of these worries belligerently take over our minds and we’re in a constant battle with a persistent monster that exhausts us until it takes over. You can’t use public transport in case it stops unexpectedly, you can’t make those drinks after work in case you say something stupid and make an idiot of yourself, and you can’t leave the house because you have absolutely no control over anything out in the real world. And then someone says, ‘stop worrying’. ‘Good idea, I never thought of that you’ you remark sarcastically.
Do me a favour and for the next five seconds, don’t think about a white polar bear. If you’re not thinking about a white polar bear, then you’re either a superhero or a liar because we do not have control over what we pay attention to. As soon as we’re born, we take in hundreds of colours, sounds, smells and tastes a minute. Then, we grow up constantly trying to be better than those around us and we force ourselves to multi-task. We scroll through our homepages to keep up to date with the latest news and memes while aimlessly chewing and swallowing our dinner without tasting it and watching senseless television. As a society, we have completely lost the ability to focus on one thing. There is so much going on that we are constantly living in an imagined future state. You then add on the fantasy land of social media where you can create an avatar that fuels your mindlessness and downward self-comparison and the result is an anxiety epidemic.
One of the very detrimental reasons we spend so much time on our phones is that there is so much happening on social media that it is the only stimulus that can occupy our attention. Otherwise, we get ‘bored’. People always blame the external. Everything is boring but we are not responsible for our own perception. Therefore, we have developed this belief that quantity of activities makes the situation less boring. Watching paint dry is boring but is it more interesting to watch several different types of paint drying less boring? Of course not. So being on your phone, watching television and eating your dinner is not better than just eating your dinner. What we misunderstand is that if we change how we do things, then it might be less boring. And what if you really observed the colour of the paint? The texture? The feel before and after? Everything changes. Don’t believe me? Researchers from the University of Surrey have developed a range of products including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as a result of literally watching paint dry.
And why didn’t we have these worries when we were children? We’re always told that our happiest times are childhood, because we haven’t a worry in the world. The reason we don’t worry is because our minds are so occupied with learning about the novelty of the world that we don’t have time to worry. We automatically live in the present so there is no time for the future. Adults still don’t understand this and they ask a child ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’?’. When we work at schools, we speak about worry and the majority of children are terrified of their transition into secondary school and exams. These children are 11. In the UK, we have had plenty of schools interested in our program but it could not get the go ahead because the school needed to concentrate on SATs. Again, these children are 11. We are placing children in our worried and stressed adult environments. This results in the anxiety that adults experience seeping into childhood, and children are now worrying more than ever. 13.3% of adolescents aged 16 – 18 have experienced anxiety. 40000 children suffer from anxiety.
So how do we stop this? Well firstly, stop projecting your worry about your child onto them. It is poor parenting. Let them grow and learn by truly experiencing what is in front of them rather than your imagined world a year down the line. Then, allow your child to understand their worry and why it is important. And finally, give them a way to have control over their worry. Here's the secret weapon to fight against adolescent worry. One huge failure of society is its inability to remove the association between the scientific benefits of meditation and a hippy sitting up with their legs crossed, fingers placed in the ok symbol while humming. We are yet to attend a school where the general consensus of what meditation is wasn't exactly that. But this is why this is a secret weapon. It's not known. It turns out that because our minds are constantly so active and focused on hundreds of things and thoughts at one time, we need to train our minds to attend to one thing, just like we train any muscle in the gym. Want to test how good your attention is? Try sit down and just focus on your breathing without thinking of anything else for five minutes. Impossible. But maybe try it for two minutes for a few weeks and I promise that your consistency will build up your attention to be able to do it for ten minutes. Imagine that we have a muscle in our brain, scientifically known as cognitive control, and at the moment it's weak. When we meditate, we build up that muscle and then it becomes strong. When the muscle is strong, it is more aware of when we're worrying about the future and it is able to bring us back to the present. And this doesn't mean sitting like a twat humming some mantra. Just lie down in a park and really focus on your senses. But be careful. Meditation is not just sitting in silence. That doesn't do anything. Try the app 'headspace' or 'Calm'.
We highly recommend that everyone tries it but we do admit that it won't work for everyone. So what else can improve our ability to attend? At concerts, there are now more phones than people interested in the music act. You stand in front of the breath taking view of the Grand Canyon but you need to get a selfie first because if there’s no picture, then you were never there. And finally, and undoubtedly most frustrating is when you meet up with friends at the pub and someone spends all of their time glued to their phone. If you can't identify who it is in your friend group, then it's probably you. Mindlessness. Because it is worry that stems the social media movement. People are worried that other people will think that they’re not happy. But if you base your happiness on other peoples’ opinion, then you are not in control of your happiness. By taking control of your attention, your quality of work increases, procrastination reduces, and you begin appreciating the mundane far more. As Patrick Kavanagh said, you learn how to wallow in the habitual.
Please note that this is not a fix to panic attacks nor is it going to remove obsessive compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. Like everything we do, this is a preventative measure. We never ignore emotions. We need to be aware of our worries and then counteract them as often as possible. Remember, we can’t control worry happening but we can control how long it lasts. And worry is not a bad thing. It is our brain telling us that we need to be prepared for something. So we’re not some hippies telling you to live in the moment. We are academics telling you that you need to train your brain’s ability to attend to one thing, through meditation or just simple awareness of your brain wandering into worry land. And if you can do that; for yourself, for your child or for your student; then we will have the ability to focus on one thing. The beauty of the present.
Yours Sincerely, Motus.