Churchill, It Never Happened: Fear and Worry
It Never Happened
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened” –Winston Churchill
The illustrious statesman, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, had much to say about our inability to predict the future. Worry disagrees, it moves boldly into the future with a dearth of data and predicts calamity, which activates its partner in false prophesy– fear. Worry and fear work together to create havoc and limit your enjoyment of life. They pull appalling, improbable scenarios from your cognitive domain and attempt to present these as reality. As Winston Churchill said, “It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than we can see.” However, worry can also spark action if you worry and realize a plan of action should be initiated– and you act. Under those circumstances worry serves you well.
Worry can spark your imagination. “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination,” Albert Einstein once said. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Imagination can also generate, in chilling clarity, doom, gloom and catastrophe. We have a choice.
Really, sometimes having a complex brain is not much fun. Imagination can litter our internal environment with every manner of dreadful possibility. A recent Dartmouth study and other similar studies suggest that, contrary to what we have been told, the right brain is not the only location of creativity and imagination. The brain is much more complex and interconnected. BTW, fear finds its home in the amygdala which is located close to the hippocampus, in the temporal lobe. As impressive as this may be, the enormous human brain can be hoodwinked and inventive fears can trigger the same damaging chemical and physical changes as a life threatening emergency. Therein hides the problem waiting to strike.
Possible Consequences of Worry and Stress
You may be all keyed up with nothing to fight or flee and unsure how to turn off the stress chemicals. You can become a ticking bomb that is not allowed to explode—so you may implode. If this happens frequently, it can have a serious, even deadly, effect on your health.
Every system in your body is affected by worry and fear. In addition to raising blood pressure and increasing blood clotting, worry can prompt your liver to produce more cholesterol, all of which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Muscle tension can give rise to headaches, back pain, and other troublesome body aches. Worry can also trigger an increase in stomach acid and either slow or speed up muscle contractions in your intestines, which can lead to stomach aches, constipation, diarrhea, gas or heartburn. Worry can affect your skin (rash or itch). It can impact your respiratory system by aggravating asthma. Growing evidence suggests that chronic worry can compromise your immune system, making you more vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, perhaps even cancer.
What should you do? Talk to someone. Sharing your fears or concerns can shine the light of reason on the products of your imagination. Take action! When nature gave us an imagination to identify potential threats, it also gave us fear to spur us to take protective action. Make a plan and follow it through. Learn to let go. Frequently, knowing the difference between a situation over which you have control and one over which you have no control can help. If there is nothing you can do –acceptance—may be the answer.
Switch gears. Think of something over which you have control or something more pleasant. Do something you enjoy, perhaps with a friend.Pet your dog or cat. Hug someone. You can also test reality with a friend. You can practice deep breathing exercises to calm and control. This is an excellent website; follow along with Dr. Andrew Weil, breathe for wellness http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00521/three-breathing-exercises.html. Work those muscles! Exercise is an great way to relieve stress, burn calories, decrease depression and work toward wellness. According to recent research, a boost of activity can keep excitable neurons in check. The Mayo Clinic suggests pumping up those endorphins with walking or other exercise (after consulting your physician). Exercise is meditation in motion. YES! For those of you interested in the superficial (right), buff is attractive.
Stop worry before it has the opportunity to assume control over your thoughts and emotions. You must work quickly and strike when you first notice negative thoughts that fuel worry and fear. We have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day. Learning to catch those thoughts requires practice. If you feel a negative emotion ask yourself—what was I just thinking? Then, do something: exercise, splash cold water on your face, snap a rubber band, call a friend, or see a big flashing stopsign in your mind’s eye. You may want to listen to a relaxation CD or go on a mini vacation using your fertile imagination. Whatever you choose should channel your thoughts in more positive direction.
Churchill warned us, “A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year, and to have the ability afterwards to explain why it did not happen.” They cannot foretell the future and neither can we.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It will soon become second nature to relax, exercise, or change thoughts, rather than counter-productive worrying. Caution: Avoid over eating, using drugs or drinking alcoholic beverages to self-medicate. These soothing behaviors are detrimental to your health and wellbeing and as one could predict—they do not resolve the problem.
For leaders: Begin a wellness program for your employees to educate and reduce stress related symptoms. An exercise room would be an excellent beginning. Happy employees are a joy to lead and they more productive.
The last word by Churchill, “I always avoid prophesying beforehand, because it is a much better policy to prophesy after the event has already taken place.”
Do you worry? Find out by taking this test.
© 2016, Dr. Dorothy McCoy. All rights reserved.