Lesson 1: Don’t sweat the small stuff

A couple of weeks ago I read an article about this study in America that asked a thousand or so older people what their biggest regret in life was. My friends and I thought it would be ‘I wished I’d travelled more’ or ‘dated more’ or ‘eaten more’, but our guesses were all wrong. The overwhelming answer was ‘I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life worrying’.

Upon reading that, it struck me that I, like a few other people I know who are my age, am in real danger of having that same regret when I’m grey haired and wrinkled, kicking back my heels and thinking about my life. I must work immediately towards stopping this from happening.

Naturally I worry, but not necessarily about the most natural things. For example, I spend an unnecessary amount of time worrying about not being able to get to sleep at night, and if I do get to sleep, I worry I will have an anxiety dream (that’s right, I worry about worrying) and find myself in a derelict public toilet without toilet roll or any stall doors.

Needless to say, these things are useless to me in the long run; they just delay sleep and make it more difficult for me to use public toilets in the real world. So why do l sweat the small stuff? I know that it doesn’t help me live my best life, and yet I continue to worry. Perhaps it’s some twisted desire to always feel on the edge of urgency, so I never become complacent.

Or it could just be that I’ve always been a bit of an anxious person; at least until fairly recently. Somehow along the way though, I managed to beat into my own head the lesson that sweating the small stuff tends to fuel the worrying even more rather than help it, until you’re just a crippling heap on the floor.

And I mean small stuff that begins with “what if…” These kind of questions/ concerns/ irrational mutterings used to just be a part of my everyday life. Three recurring qualms were:

  • What if I ask him out and he says no?
  • What if I never get anything published?
  • What if I die alone?

Granted, that last one is a bigger thing to sweat, but I have about as much chance of knowing if it will come true, as I do about the other two things. And ‘what ifs’ can be crippling and stop me doing something I really want to do; so how do I stop it from happening? Well, I actually have a tangible method (I know, I was surprised too), which involves me asking myself the following three questions:

  1. What is it exactly that I am worried will/ won’t happen?
  2. Do I have any control over whether this will/ won’t happen?
  3. (Dependent on your answer to Q2) What can I do to feel more in control of this thing happening/ not happening?
  4. What can I do to make myself feel better about facing this particular uncertainty?

It’s not fool proof (none of my methods are, let’s be honest), but it does help clarify things in my head so that I know when worry is warranted and when it’s not. Usually the worry comes from missing pieces of the puzzle, or things we can’t control, like other people and their reactions to things. But sometimes living your best life can be as simple as trying to worry less, so that you can do more of the things you want to do, without living under the shadow of ifs and buts.

So here’s to spending this week – and ongoing weeks to come – not sweating the small (and sometimes big) stuff too much, unless I’m in the gym where sweat will occur whether I want it to or not.

Image credit: Caterpillar by James Cottell from the Noun Project

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Maame Blue

Writer| Poet| Blogger| Ghanaian by heart, Londoner by nature

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