We all seem to live in our own little, for some large, empires of worry.
To simplify, I will say that there are two types of worry. Those that are helpful, and can serve as a type of fuel to move in a direction that is desirable. And those that are unhelpful, and act as a brake that adds friction, making it more difficult to move, in any direction.
A helpful worry can be one that keeps us alive. The worry that naturally arises when trying to cross a busy street safely, or during an unexpected bout of turbulence on a plane, is expected and useful. Another example of a helpful worry is about maintaining food, shelter, or more directly, a means of survival. If one is worried about keeping their job, they are best to choose to work a little, or for some a lot, harder, and do what they can to secure their means of income.
These are easy to understand and obvious to most. Similarly, unhelpful worries that have very little to do with reality are also easy to understand and obvious to most.
The less obvious are worries that start as being helpful, and through the momentum that often accompanies the art of worrying, become unhelpful.
While there may be many examples that we have collectively experienced in the past few years, let me share a personal example of this.
Earlier this year, I became curious to better understand my physical health. Living in Portugal, I discovered the privilege of a public-private health care system, which means that I can get anything I want tested, on demand, without asking for permission.
Intellectually curious as I am, I started to test everything I could think of. It started with extensive monthly blood work, and snowballed from there to include hormones, allergies, gut health, hair loss, sleep, body composition, genetics, and much more.
In my first blood work, with over 100 data points being collected, working with one of my many nutritionists, we discovered a rarely tested heart disease marker with a value that was four times than the expected range. Within a few days, I saw a cardiologist who was also concerned, and asked me to take a specific B vitamin supplement and to test if it is genetic, which it turns out it is.
The next blood work, one month later, showed the marker was now only two times higher than expected, and another month later, was now in range, thanks to the supplement.
The helpful worry to explore what I was discovering, allowed us to diagnose and treat a potentially high risk health condition, within only a few months.
While my health journey started as a helpful worry, it quickly snowballed into an unhelpful worry.
‘If you look, you will find’, is what my therapist said to me one afternoon while I was complaining about my health. I was looking very hard, for the first time in my life, and I was finding a lot.
It got to the point where I had convinced myself that I was unhealthy. The emotional weight, disappointment and discouragement that often accompanies unhelpful worries became temporarily debilitating for me.
Where a helpful worry becomes energizing, like fuel, an unhelpful worry becomes a brake on life. When I feel lost, stuck and stopped, it is an indicator that I am living in my empire of unhelpful worry.
What got me moving again was a change in my physical space. I had a pre-planned trip, the location or activity had no significant impact, as after only a few days away from my empire of worry, I quickly realized that I was healthy and in fact, very healthy.
Gaining perspective, regardless if it is from stepping outside of my empire, from a trusted family member or friend reflecting back to me, or with the support of a therapist or inspiring book, is often the solution to rid myself of an unhelpful worry.
This reflection is not about my health. It is about the slippery slope between a helpful worry and unhelpful worry, and the benefit of constant perspective to stay grounded in and connected to reality.
Like all empires, when we start to see them for what they are, they often lose their power and begin to dissolve. The empire of unhelpful worry is no different.