By DIANE PHILLIPS
My late mother-in-law, God rest her soul, was such a worrier that one day when she had nothing to worry about, she confessed she was worried that she had nothing to worry about, as if she had overlooked some major reason for worry, and would regret it. She spoke about worry as if it were a place that should have been dusted but wasn’t and would be revealed to her extreme horror by distinguished guests later.
Maybe not to the extent that my mother-in-law was, but we are all worriers. We are a society of worrier warriors, ready to do battle with our brains for something we did not get right, did not get finished and are worried we may not be able to do. It is not just us in The Bahamas. It’s everywhere where modern technology is. We worry more than we used to even though we should have less to worry about. After all, Alexa can alert us when it is time to walk the dog or turn off the oven. We have appliances that do half our work and technology does much of the rest, right? Yet we worry. We worry that we are not as good as the technology we hold in our hands. We worry that when we do use it, we do not keep up with the last bit of news because it happened a second after we stopped staring at the screen expecting breaking news.
We worry from the time we get up in the morning until the time we go to bed at night. It’s like a thread that runs beneath the skin, a low-grade current that hums along inside, there but invisible, out of reach and untouchable.
But I wonder if it really is untouchable. Maybe if we talk about how much we worry, and we are honest about it, it will release some of the pressure and we will worry less and have more available brain time to figure out how to do more to assuage the things we would otherwise be worrying about. In other words, we could act instead of worrying about not acting on the things we worry about – or we could do, like we do with a lot of things that cause us to worry, we could procrastinate our fretting. Personally, it’s a toss-up, but that’s besides the point.
We should probably take a closer look at what worry does to us as humans.
According to researchers, worry is really bad for you. It’s a ticking time bomb for our health. Worry causes the body to release stress hormones including cortisol. And what does cortisol do? It speeds up the aging process. Just look at those stressed people in TV commercials before they have taken stress relief medication. Did you ever notice how they have so many wrinkles and how tired they look and then, during the time the TV voice is peeling off all the possible side effects including an increased risk of suicide, the medicine takes effect and the patient - I mean actor - looks younger, happier, wrinkle free. They probably weren’t paying close attention to the thought of increased risk of suicide.
Worry is closely linked to stress as you already know but I am only mentioning it because we do not think so often about how stress increases blood sugar levels. We do not walk through the front door and say, “I’ve had a really stressful day and my blood sugar levels are through the roof.”
It’s just as unlikely that we stop to think about how stress interacts with our blood flow. When we worry and we are stressed, our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes heavier, we may sweat and we can even become paler, as blood moves away from the skin and toward the muscle to prepare for the fight or flight. That paleness may be more obvious on some than others but the part about blood moving toward muscle is universal even if you can’t see it. Your brain is telling your body what to do. None of this information is original. I Googled it, of course, because how else do you ever get information and then worry because you want to make sure it is right. The main point is that worry doesn’t get you much, but it can lead to a heart attack, stroke and stomach ulcers (thanks again, Google) and wrinkles as we said at the beginning.
Worry and stress keep your body in a constant state of anxiety. That state of steady readiness causes the brain to release hormones that obey instructions from that same stressed brain and zip around the body like a hyperactive kid on a chocolate bar washed down by hot chocolate.
So why are we talking about worry? It started with a conversation about wrinkles when this friend of mine, a professional colleague I respect commented that the picture of me in The Tribune was good, youthful, and when he saw the look on my face, he tried to backtrack but it just got worse. The more he talked, the deeper his foot went into his mouth.
“As we all get older, we ALL wrinkle more…” he said, trying to get out of the mess he just got into by including himself (though he has not aged in 30 years). So I wanted to know where wrinkles came from and now I know. They come from not understanding how to use all those smart devices that are supposed to make our life worry-free.
If you figure out how to worry less, please let me know. Post a comment at the end of the column online, Whatsapp me at 376-2177, text, message or Facebook me. Just don’t twitter, or is that tweet?