Extreme worrying: not for the faint-heartedPosted: November 23, 2011 | |
I am a champion in an extreme sport – something perilous and fraught with danger. So what is it? White water rafting? Bungee jumping? Skydiving? Extreme ironing?
Ha, no. I laugh in the face of such reckless pursuits. Well, when I say I laugh in their faces, I kind of do it from a great distance, in a non-participatory sort of way. My sport is one I have worked at for years, day in, day out, often through the night too. My dedication to excellence in this field, my commitment to outstanding achievement in this discipline, is the stuff true champions are made of.
Will you see me proudly wearing a gold medal in the London Olympics? Alas, no. Because, in truth, there are no rewards for champions in my sport. It’s dangerous, but unexciting. It’s demanding, physically and mentally, but lacks the thrill and white-knuckle experiences associated with other extreme sports. My sport, ladies and gentlemen, is extreme worrying.
I’m a born worrier. I think it’s in my blood. It’s something I learned when I was young – probably in my teens – and worked on through my twenties, but true mastery didn’t come to me until I was in my thirties, loosely coinciding with fatherhood. Having children gives the extreme worrier something really substantial to fret over. And when you’re already a cutting-edge worrier, this extra potential for worrying can mark you out from the rest of the field.
One of my inspirations for worrying is Mr Worry, one of Roger Hargreaves’ marvellous Mr Men. Mr Worry is a legendary worrier. He is a benchmark, a pacemaker – the one who sets the gold standard for other worriers to follow. He worries about everything and everybody. One day, though, he meets a helpful wizard, as you do, and the wizard tells him to write a list of everything he is worried about. It is a long list, but the wizard pledges to make sure none of these onerous things ever happen. For a week, Mr Worry hasn’t a care in the world. But oh dear, what’s this? Monday morning has come around and Mr Worry is worried again (a familiar feeling for many of us, I’m sure). But why? What is bothering him?
“I’m worried because I don’t have anything to worry about!”
This is where I am like Mr Worry. I am capable of worrying about everything, anything and nothing – often all at once. There are times when this is actually useful. A spot of worrying can make you really good at planning in meticulous detail and ensuring that multiple projects are delivered on time, to a high standard and all the rest of it.
But extreme worrying is not helpful. It is destructive. Once you start down the path of extreme worrying, you are likely to enter other, darker domains – stress, anxiety, depression… This is the reason extreme worrying is dangerous. Along with its sinister companions, it attacks your confidence, withers your self-esteem, stops you looking forward to anything, and takes you by the hand into the unwelcoming world of mental illness. This is a world inhabited by the likes of Paul Brookes, my cruel and dastardly alter-ego. Brookes feasts on worry. It is his staple diet. It nourishes him, and at times of extreme extreme worry he gorges himself silly on a lustful binge of worry on toast, with worry sauce and a side portion of worry, washed down with a worry smoothie and finished off with a worry sundae and a cafetière of freshly ground worry. With some worry mints perched on the edge of his saucer.
After belching and smugly leaning back in his chair, he looks into my mind with a glint in his eye and sees there is more worry to be had. Is he full? Never. “Bring on the worry,” he says. “I am a hungry Brookes.”
Brookes has been getting rather plump lately. He has enjoyed a rich and varied diet of worry. There are worries about things that are perhaps worth worrying about, things that aren’t really worth worrying about, things that DEFINITELY aren’t worth worrying about and things that are actually good things but can still be worried about if you offer them to Brookes and invite him to twist them into something that generates pressure, fear or anxiety.
And this is one of the most tricky problems for the extreme worrier to deal with. Worrying, stress, anxiety, low self-esteem and depression don’t just feed the likes of Paul Brookes: they feed each other, creating a destructive circle of self-critical, self-loathing, resentful, angry thoughts.
There is a lot of advice and support available for the extreme worrier, but if, like me, you are prone to sinking in the quicksand of depression, you might become skilled in ignoring it. I have a Bible verse on my wall, offering wise and true words about why I shouldn’t worry:
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
I ignore this exquisite nugget of common sense every day. Worrying is, by and large, pointless, as the verse suggests. Extreme worrying is not just pointless – it’s potentially the start of a slippery slope into greater mental torment. So if you’re a worrier, especially if you’re an extreme worrier, try doing the following things that I’m trying – but rarely managing – to do myself:
- Do what you can to examine your worries and whether you really need to worry about them.
- If you do need to worry about them, act on them so you don’t have to worry about them any more.
- If you can’t do anything about them, accept that you can’t do anything about them.
- Recognise the good things in your life and enjoy them.
- Try to put everything in perspective.
- Be kind to yourself.
Mr Worry is a great character but not a great role model. Mr Happy might be too big a stretch for me at the moment, but I can at least try to enjoy being Mr Silly or Mr Funny and see where that takes me.