The Worry Habit

There is little doubt that living in the world today poses a challenge. We face seemingly uncontrollable climatic events, human conflict and the consequences of increasing human activity such as water pollution and contamination of food supplies. Even for those in relatively stable countries, it is hard to ignore the implications of human events and actions in other parts of the globe (Drakos & Mueller, 2014; Sherpa, 2014).

Then there are the more personal and immediate stimuli for fear: those of illness, loss of someone we love, of losing our job, of not getting one, or of not being able to cope with one; fear of being alone, unloved, of looking wrong, of being found wanting. The list of possibilities could be very long.

The state that the world is in gives us great cause for concern and should be a spur to constructive action, but is it a cause for worry? Let’s say there are things in life about which we are justifiably concerned and not to be might be seen as irresponsible or uncaring. Worry, if it has become a habit, is a general attitude to being alive.

Some of us experience disquiet beyond things which might seem to be justified causes for worry. We may harbour a sense of doom and gloom, perhaps rising to panic at times, a free-floating, un-pin-downable sort of feeling that colours our daily life. Can we, however, really justify worrying about seemingly non-existent things?

One of the worst aspects of worrying is that it can become habitual. We cease distinguishing between the nature of stimuli and respond with the same degree of worry to everything.   Minor irritations – like opening the fridge door and finding we have run out of butter – can assume the proportion of a major event. This may persist to such an extent that our whole response to life becomes one of worrying; we even find things to worry about where no clear reason to do so exists. Even if the habit is initially triggered by very trying circumstances which then improve, we may continue to react as if there has been no change.

But does it matter?

If we could understand a little about the nature of worry, we would be able to see that not only is being worried or fearful debilitating, but that it is never useful to us or our own personal situation, regardless of how ‘natural’ it might appear to be and whatever the cause. It is no help; it merely cripples our ability to think clearly, act rationally, and is an unreliable motivation on which to base our lives. There is a more creative and constructive way of dealing with our problems, whatever their origin.

When we worry we make ourselves feel bad and if it was merely a case of that it would still be unpleasant but perhaps wouldn’t matter. That feeling, though, is not such a simple phenomenon. We can actually create a feeling of worry by what we do with our own muscles! In order to worry and create the feeling that goes with it we have to pull our own framework – the whole of our physical self, so to speak – out of shape. We do this through activity of our own muscles, made to contract by our own brains. Not only do we give ourselves a particular feeling, in doing extra work with our muscles, we put stress, and extra wear and tear on our internal organs and joints and in this way, we hurt ourselves. On top of that, this pulling ourselves out of shape makes it more difficult to pay attention and take in information, more difficult to think. All in all it makes living harder.

Of course it is constant and commonplace advice that worry does not get you anywhere and you must stop doing it, but the truth is that, because of this relationship of our thought to our physical structure, merely deciding to stop worrying is not enough. Once any activity has become habitual we cannot change it simply by changing our mind. We also need to change the way we use ourselves as a whole; that is, change the way we put our bodily mechanisms into activity. If we don’t make that change, then we have not changed anything; we simply overlay one habitual pattern with another. If this is done with even more muscular effort, then we damage ourselves even more.

If we don’t pull ourselves out of shape, we don’t create the sensation which we interpret as being anxious, or of waiting in unresolved agonies of expectation, and can free ourselves from a part of habitual behaviour that is our past.

Luckily, if we have learned to do a thing then we can learn to stop doing it. Almost everything we do is learned and therefore much of our everyday activity is habitual. If our habitual behaviour hurts us we can abandon it and learn a different way of responding.

With the Alexander Technique we can do just that.

Some of us may consider ourselves to be of a basically nervous disposition, highly-strung and rather prone to worry. Evidence from those who have applied the Technique indicates that, barring some particularly severe mental and overriding physical difficulties, most of our negative inheritance of this sort can be dealt with in such a way as to reduce it to minimum influence.

By learning to use the principles of the Alexander Technique, we can improve our general co-ordination and ability to deal with life’s stimuli. We can discover the things that we have to do to ourselves in order to worry. Once we have this insight we can learn how to stop doing we can come to see does us little good or actively hurts us. Instead of worrying, we can maintain our poise and balance, and think about how to respond creatively to the challenges which face us.

Drakos, K. & Mueller, C. (2014) On the Determinants of Terrorism Risk in Europe. Defence & Peace Economics. 25, 3:291-310

Sherpa, K. (2014) Re-emergence of the deadly Ebola virus: A global health threat. Journal of Institute of Medicine. 36, 2:1-4. 4p

© PAAT 2016

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