I admit it: I’m a recovering worrier. I have a long history of worrying, and I learned from the master. My dad had elevated worrying to an art form. It wasn’t until the final months of his life when he truly learned to live in the moment. During my last visit with him, when he was already very ill, he told me how he’d learned to “appreciate every flower, and every butterfly.” It sounds trite, but it resonated deeply with me, coming from a man who had spent so much of his life doing the exact opposite.

I was also fortunate that I had a feline master teacher who showed me how useless worrying is. During her illness, Buckley taught me how to stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself with worry. Even on her bad days, she did not waste precious moments worrying about things like a bad test result or a poor prognosis.

And yet, I can’t seem to completely break the habit. I suppose it’s because I’m not a cat, I’m a human with all the flaws and shortcomings of the species.

Worry is a complete waste of precious time. When Karl Pillemer, the author of 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, interviewed 1200 elders for his Legacy Project, he heard over and over again that the one thing most people regretted was the time they wasted worrying about the future.

Not too long ago, I had a pretty poignant reminder of this, courtesy of Allegra and Ruby.. I’ve been dealing with some ongoing home repair issues that I had been neglecting. I was really worried about the extent and cost of the needed repairs, and had been pulling a “Cleopatra” for a while, but reached a stage where I could no longer ignore the problem. Now mind you, I spent an amazing amount of time worrying about these issues before I even had my trusted handyman look at the problem. I also always worry about Allegra and Ruby anytime a service person comes by the house. They don’t like being locked up in a room, and the hammering and drilling that often accompanies repairs frightens them.

Thankfully, my handyman is  a cat guy, and while Allegra and Ruby always greet him at the door, once the hammering starts, they disperse to their various hiding places. For Ruby, that’s usually under my bed, for Allegra, it’s either inside the kitchen cabinet, under the sofa, or in behind the shower curtain in the downstairs bathroom. So really, there was no need for me to worry about the two of them – and yet, I did it anyway.

Turns out the needed repairs aren’t going to be nearly as daunting as I had feared. We’ll start addressing them one item at a time, and everything will be taken care of soon.

But what this brought home to me once again was what a giant waste of time worry is. I’m going to try to remember this experience the next time I get caught up worrying about something. And I’m also going to try some of these:

Create a “worry period”

Don’t make it longer than 5 or 10 minutes, and try to do it at the same time every day. During that period of time, you can worry about everything and anything you want. Let yourself go crazy. Imagine the worst case scenario. But that’s the only time of the day you get to do that. The rest of the day is a worry-free zone. If any thoughts of worry come up during the day, jot them down, then let them go. Remember, you can worry about them during your worry period.Chances are that after a few days of doing this, you’ll realize how pointless worrying is, and those 5 to 10 minutes will seem like a ridiculously long amount of time.

Keep things in perspective

How many times do things really turn out as bad as you feared? It’s kind of like the man who said: “Don’t tell me worrying doesn’t work! Almost everything I worry about never happens to me!”

Accept that you’re not in control

Thinking about everything that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. Sometimes, things just happen. You may not be able to control the situation, but you CAN control how you react.

Be more like your cats

Cats don’t know how to worry. They live in the moment. Something either feels good, or it doesn’t. If it does, they’ll let you know it so you can change it for them. Now who’s the smarter species?

Are you a worrier? What has helped you break the worry cycle?

26 Comments on Sunday Purrs: The Waste of Worry

  1. I had great success with Rescue Remedy when my Charlie tried bolting out the opened door, j,,,,just a few drops in his water dish twice a day for a few days

  2. I know that what you say is true, I acknowledge it, but I have a situation and I don’t know what to do.
    I have three cats, Kimmi, Mikey, Sam I used to have Sammy a cat I adored that got lost when we were forced to move, now when the spca told me they had a black cat female operated i was so happy that I didn’t recognize immediately that it wasn’t my Sammy, so i called her Sam, she was very sick i brought her to vet got her cured only to later find she had asthma so i give her medecine for that in her ear. My Problem is that \mikey, my male cat won’t leave her alone he’s constantly chasing her, ’cause he use to do it to Sammy but they had had 10 years together,so they knew each other, now Mikey my male cat, keeps on chasing Sam and it scares her, and stresses her to the point that I have to put mikey in a room by himself, it’s a big room he’s got little and food and all he need, but I can’t keep him locked away…But it makes Sam worse and he’s been with me forever and I can’t give him away i don’t want to lock him up all day and all nigth as it is I lock him up at night or he wakes everybody at one. I don’t want to hurt him, or leave him alone in this room. But Sam’s sick and he stresses her so, is there anything that i can give to him that will calm him down…and not that spray that ‘s supppose to make him happy it doesnt work and not catnip either, gosh there has to be something to calm an overexcited cat so that he’s mellow and stops making Sam’s life miserable….I have to take medicine and I swear to God that i would give a tenth of a clonazepam if I knew he would stop stressing out everyone and it would not hurt him….because nothign t he vet gives me calms him down…please helpme

  3. I used to be a terrible worrier but no longer. I came to understand that worrying is a variant of fear, and no decision made in fear has ever been good, in my experience. And truly, worrying doesn’t even let you get to the decision stage, but traps you in paralytic spirals of INdecision.
    An excellent book helped me understand and transcend much of my worry tendency: THE ANTIDOTE: HAPPINESS FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN’T STAND POSITIVE THINKING, by Oliver Burkeman.

  4. I watched my mother waste time worrying–and proud of it–and criticize me as a child for not worrying. I have to admit, I never developed the habit. Worry, to me, is unproductive, though planning is quite another thing. If I need to think something over I wash the dishes or clean the bathroom or do something that keeps my hands busy so the time I spend potentially spinning my wheels isn’t wasted. I’m glad you’ve found some means of managing it!

  5. Ingrid – thanks for a great article. I am a “recovering” worrier … ! I still have my good days and bad but I’m slowing learning that worrying doesn’t change anything … it just makes me eat more! I have passed your article on to a dear friend of mine who is also a worrier … thanks for your words of wisdom.

  6. Great article Ingrid…truly am enjoying your website since I stumbled upon it 🙂 I also am enjoying the pics of your two beautiful Cats, …I have what I believe to be a calico she is black, carmel, and has a just a bit of white on her bib and her 2back paws are completely white with some on her fronts…she’s my girl, that’s for sure! Rachel isn’t a lap kitty, but my male Timmy is, and to sit on the couch with him on me is a great peaceful feeling, close to my meaning of meditation..and trust me any advice I can get about this “worrying” stuff is surely welcomed!!

    • I’m so glad you found my site, Annemarie! Feel free to post photos of your cats on our Facebook page. To me, just being with cats is a form of meditation.

  7. My mother was a master worrier and so is my ex-husband. Maybe because of that I became the exact opposite, a non-worrier. My ex used to accussed me of not worrying enough when there was a problem in the family. How silly is that? Maybe I’m a cat after all? Someone once said cats do not consider us as humans, just large, hairless and clueless cats that needed lots of training. Thanks, Ingrid for your thoughtful writings.

  8. Thank you, Ingrid . . . . one of my favorite “human master teachers” . . . for your always insightful and helpful posts. As I read this, I realized that in the last 16 months since we adopted our first kitty, Anya, that much of the worrying I’ve been doing about my career and my health has just disappeared. Perhaps it’s because of our own little feline master teachers have helped me worry less, or perhaps it’s because I’m spending more time thinking about something other than myself. Like you said above . . . “Caring instead of worrying.” Either way, they have helped me to become a “recovering worrier”, too.

    Hugs to you, Allegra, and Ruby!

  9. So very, very true. My mom was a worrier, but it wasn’t until after she passed away and my dad and I became very, very close that I realized how influential his optimism had been during their lives. It’s truly one qualities I most admire about my dad. Of course I didn’t even see it until very late in his life, but it’s something I try to carry with me everyday. And that is how I battle worry. I just remember all of the challenges my dad faced and how he never failed to see the positive. For me it’s an incredibly strong worry-breaker.

  10. Great insight as usual Ingrid. I agree but I also think that as much as we recognize that worry is not the best or most productive thing for us, I do believe if you are a genuinely caring person…there will be times that we…..yes, worry. I do try to separate the things I have control over and the things I do not have control over….this tends to help.

    I also try to remember that you can only have one thought at a time….so focusing on something positive and getting away from whatever it is that’s causing the worry, really does help. Easier said that done, but like you said, we are human.

    • I don’t think being a caring person has to lead to worrying, Toni. Caring is directed at others, worrying is something that you do to yourself. Just some food for thought. 🙂

  11. I am definitely a worrier, and I don’t like it. I know I worry way too much, and I know it is not useful. Sometimes praying helps me. I should really get back to making time for prayer every day. Thank you for the great reminder!

  12. I agree 100%. I’m living every day with my cats. One of my babies, Frankie, is going to be going to heaven for an illness, so I’m sitting with him, feeding him and his sister their favorite treats, and and enjoying my time with him. No worries, Frankie will be happier in heaven and will be waiting for me :).
    Thank you

    • I’m sorry about Frankie, Jean, but I love that you’re focusing on the time you have with him, rather than worrying about what comes next.

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