On worry. No solution.

If you know me, in person or via the internet, you may have a sense of my capacity to worry about things. Things big (Am I going to die alone? Who would come to my aid in an emergency?) and things trivial (What if I cause a pile up at the communion rail?) and every shade of seriousness in between.

I come from a family of worriers but I don’t think I truly appreciated this until recently. I had always felt that our capacity to care about others was a hindrance sometimes as we worried about their wellbeing. My brother has a few issues based on this. I asked him for help recently after a terribly bad day. He would, sadly, be my last rather than first resort because having his sister howling in his living room is merely a cause for further concern. We’re talking about someone who frets if I don’t text him that I’m home, having driven a few miles across town. So I don’t tell him about things that aren’t going well, because he’ll only worry.

My grandmother, apparently, worried herself ill over concern that a friend would be critical of a failed batch of scones. Hearing that story a couple of weeks ago was enormously helpful as it puts family context on the way I am.

It’s such an energy-sapping thing, though. Having thoughts about self and others going round and round my head takes up resources I’d rather use productively. I’ve never really got the hang of quiet meditation because there’s always such noise going on – in really bad times, I wish I could switch my mind off for a few days. I’ve envied those who are able to wander through life not caring, not minding about other people, not being aware of the effect they can have. I try to use the image of a little homunculus who has the job of keeping the top of my head free from intrusions, he’s constantly smoothing down the corners of the floor to stop thoughts escaping into the ’empty’space. I can’t pray without writing things down because there’s just so much going on. Best I can do mentally is imagine a picnic rug with all the issues on, label everything and show it to God.

I don’t have a solution. I can repeat Matthew 6 25-27 endlessly. I particularly like the Molten Meditation which was a frankly random purchase at a past Greenbelt – I had this on a loop on the plane back from New York last month. My friend Andrew repeatedly reminds me that worry is pointless. And yet, here I am, worrying about this blog post about worrying…


  1. OK, I have a new idea – laugh at yourself. I am not saying you take yourself too seriously (I don’t know whether you do or you don’t!), but it might help if you try to cultivate this, almost as an exercise in yoga, rather than worrying about the worry and the sleepless nights.

    You know your grandmother was silly to worry about the scones – laugh at her. Not to her face, of course, that would be unkind. But it is a reminder that there are not that many things in life that are worth worrying over. There are many things, like the debt crisis, which you yourself can do almost nothing to solve. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

    Personally, when I find myself worrying about silly things (which I do too) I say to myself in a Peter Sellers Indian accent (whatever works for you!):
    “Not to worry. Or, if to worry, not to worry unduly”.
    (I think this was to Sophia Loren in ‘The Millionairess’)

    If this doesn’t work for you, try and find your own mantra which makes light of it all. I hope you can find such a phrase – I also find the following is good:

    When quacks with pills political would dope us,
    When politics absorbs the livelong day,
    I like to think about the star Canopus,
    So far, so far away.
    Greatest of visioned suns, they say who list ’em;
    To weigh it science always must despair.
    Its shell would hold our whole danged solar system,
    Nor ever know ’twas there.
    When temporary chairmen utter speeches,
    And frenzied henchmen howl their battle hymns,
    My thoughts float out across the cosmic reaches
    To where Canopus swims.
    When men are calling names and making faces,
    And all the world’s ajangle and ajar,
    I meditate on interstellar spaces
    And smoke a mild seegar.
    For after one has had about a week of
    The arguments of friends as well as foes,
    A star that has no parallax to speak of
    Conduces to repose.

    B L Taylor, Canopus:

    • Thank you, Laura! I think I do try to laugh at myself – I know a lot of tweets are sharing some idiocy of mine or other for comedy value. And telling other folk about the trivial, articulating them out loud is also useful. It’s the tricky, deep, emotional regrets and suchlike I struggle more with. I like the poem, too – thank you.

  2. I do like the picnic rug image: labelling all the items and showing them to God. Interested in whether that actually helps, though. Or do you lug around the picnic rug, with items crashing left and right, as you try to leave it behind?

  3. Hi Sara!
    When I read your post, it felt like I was reading my own blog post that I am yet to write being a serial worrier. So far, I have tried various kinds of meditation, relaxation methods and I still am searching to find out what works for me. I too find it very difficult to pray as I have constant noise and images going through my head. Once,I tried imaginining a white sheet of paper which helped me briefly. Hopefully you and I will find our own unique way to defeat worrying or cope with worrying in a constructive way.

    It always helps to know that you are not alone, it makes you (me) less inaddiquate if it’s the correct word to use it. I often think I am the only one that worries to certain extend and all the time. I seem to be able to cope with it on some occasion on the other I don’t.

    I live far from my home country and all my family members live back home meaning more worrying and end up making various phone calls to various family members when I can’t get hold of my mum who lives on her own or my sister&her family if they haven’t arrived from a long drive after a holiday.

    As you put, it’s so draining and have such a terrible affect on one’s health (speaking from the experience).

    I hope you and I and other’s would find a way to cope with worrying that is less detrimental and more sensible.

    Take care.

  4. Hello dear worrier 😉
    do you feel something’s missing if there’s nothing to worry about?
    I lived with my best friend for 5 years and she was a “worst-case scenario thinker”… particularly in those deep, emotional regrets you mention. It’s not easy and I know from her that it really saps energy. She found it particularly challenging when a Christian speaker we heard at a conference said that worry is a sin.
    I hope you surround yourself with enough non-worriers to brighten things up though.
    I liked your connection of worrying and caring about people, that link hadn’t occurred to me. I guess that’s a good side aspect of worrying, that it’s part and parcel of caring for people…

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