When I hear: "Just don't worry about it"

 anxious man pulling at his hair with right hand

In my natural habitat, the whirlwind of daily existence, I rate my worrying a 3 out of 10.

There are days that it is better. There are days that it is much, much worse.

Most of my worst days of anxiety are in the past, but my past has a way of creeping into my present.

Sometimes I worry about things I know will go well.

Other times I worry about worrying.

Why would anyone worry about worrying?

Why do you put both feet on the floor when you get out of bed?

Why don’t you, instead, stand up on the bed, scoot to the edge and then do a jump and push off the wall with your right foot?

“Well, that wouldn’t make any sense.”

Neither does worrying. Anxiety just exists. It’s just there, as common as a leaf falling from a tree.

Yet, my worry has evolved over the years.

You could say that my worry and I — we’ve grown up together.

When I was a kid, I worried about things that I said to other people. I worried that maybe I said the wrong thing. I worried that possibly I hurt my friend’s feelings. I worried about feeling stupid in class. I worried because I knew I sounded stupid in class, and then I worried because I overcompensated by making a stupid remark, in a stupid class full of stupid worries.

These days, I worry about money. I worry about getting enough sleep. I worry about picking the right headline for a story about worry.

A small amount of worry is good, but I’ve never been one for whom worry comes in a modicum.

I eat worry by the pound. I consume worry until it becomes part of who I am.

Then I say — “No, no no. I’m beyond that now. I have transcended my worry.” And then I get frustrated when I come back to reality and realize life doesn’t work that way.

I know now that I can transcend. I have that ability. but I will always be the person doing the transcending.

There will be parts of me — because of biology, because of upbringing, because of past and current environments — that will most likely always be part of who I am.

The goal of the modern man with anxiety is not to defeat his anxiety.

It is not to grin and bear it, nor is it to white-knuckle the bumpy ride that is anxiety.

It is to accept it. It is to acknowledge it as a worthy competitor — but one who is no match for a courageous, vulnerable, and honest protagonist.

I can be that protagonist. That sounds pretty good to me.

When I’m living in my life — when I’m being in the moment — I know I am capable of reaching my full potential.

It’s when my head intervenes and wields its thought-weapons that I stumble.

But even stumbling builds muscle — just not the muscles I thought I would need.

So when I hear “just don’t worry about it,” I smile.

I used to frown, but I know better these days.

I know it’s not a malicious comment. But if you’ve never experienced anxiety, then you don’t know how all-consuming it can be.

I smile because I remember the times when I told myself the exact, same thing.

And you know what? It didn’t work.

Trying to force yourself to stop doing the thing you know you shouldn’t be doing is a perfect way to do that exact thing even more.

Think about it.

How have you gotten over anything in your life? Think of any fear or difficulty you’ve ever had.

Maybe you ran from it.

Or maybe you just got up and left the scene.

That’s nice and all, but it doesn’t work for anxiety.

Anxiety lives in the brain, in the heart, and in the body.

It’s all connected.

It’s one of many fascinating connections that makes us who we are.

It’s the inspiration behind my site Nerve 10, the cranial nerve that connects some of the most important organs of the body.

And if anxiety lives inside of you, the way you learn to live with it is not through escape.

Escape could mean something different for every person.

It could mean drinking too much, or picking your hair or skin, or meticulously planning every single detail of every moment of your life.

But when you spend your life planning your life, you’re not really living.

You’re dancing around disordered thinking, and your anxiety is the puppetmaster.

So, saying “Just don’t worry about it” is well-intentioned, but it’s misguided.

You don’t tell the moon to just go wander off somewhere else. The phases of the moon wax and wane, but the moon is still there, dancing in the darkness.

Anxiety is the same way.

All of us have a moon inside of us. Some of us aren’t bothered by the glow, and yet others are kept up all night.

Learning to live with worry is like learning to dance.

At first it’s pretty uncomfortable.

Then it’s mildly bothersome.

After a while it starts to feel natural.

You’ll still stumble, and you’ll still fall, but it won’t be as frequent as it once was.

Then, one day, you’ll be moving and flowing, and the wind will feel crisp against your skin. You’ll wistfully smile and say, “I knew I was worried about something, but I can’t quite remember what it was.”


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