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My grandmother taught me to be a world-class worrier. She worried constantly. She worried about things that never even occurred to anyone else. Once my mother told her that I had a blind date. My grandmother asked if that meant I had never met the man before. Upon learning that that was, indeed, the case, she replied, “What if he sends someone else?” When my mother related this story to me, my response was, “Well, I guess I won’t know the difference, will I?”

My grandmother never taught me how to make her amazing biscuits, but she sure did a good job of teaching me to be a worrier. I learned the lesson so well that, if I noticed I wasn’t worrying about something, I worried that there was something I needed to worry about that I had forgotten or overlooked.

crocheted house
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Eventually, I realized I was living in a constant state of fear. I distinctly recall, when we were awaiting finalization of our first mortgage, I spent my days scared all the time. What if something went wrong? What if we didn’t get the house? What if the mortgage company unearthed some long forgotten bit of information that was a deal breaker? What might that information be? Then I would launch into a nonstop bout of worrying about what might be out there that would kill our dreams of owning a home of our own, some string that might get pulled and start the whole thing unraveling.

That time in my life proved to be something of a tipping point for me, although things got worse before they got better. We got the house but ran into some issues with our previous landlord and later with the IRS (I have been self-employed for years, so IRS issues are something of a constant) which led me to worry that we would no sooner buy the house than we would somehow lose it.

Later that year, my grandmother passed away. My youngest son, who was 10 at the time, asked me what I would miss most about her. My answer: Her biscuits. He told me that was a cop-out answer. I agreed. Except that there was little other than her cooking that I thought I’d really miss. My grandmother rarely smiled. There is an early photo of her with my grandfather where she has her head thrown back and is clearly laughing about something. I would love to know what caused her to do that. I literally cannot remember seeing her laugh heartily in the nearly 40 years I knew her. I remember her as someone whose brow was always knitted, who always seemed to be focused on the negative.

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In retrospect, though I am no kind of psychiatrist, I suspect she was suffering from depression. Having lived with depression most of my life, I feel somewhat qualified to recognize the symptoms. She used to take something she called her “nerve pill.” I have no idea what it was, but I presume it was for anxiety. It may have calmed her down, but it didn’t make her happy.

I also grew up with a bipolar father (though no one had ever heard of the term at the time) whose favorite end-of-day activity seemed to be pointing out something I did or didn’t do that was wrong. It took me years to move past the constant, nagging notion in the back of my head that, especially if I was doing something fun or enjoyable, there was something else I should be doing.

I decided I needed to find a way to banish worry and fear from my life. I was a great fan of Dr. Wayne Dyer, and I worked hard to embrace his lessons on the subject.

“It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there’s nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control? The activity of worrying keeps you immobilized.”

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I reworded it in my own mind to something like this: Worrying is pointless. If you’re facing a situation you can do something about, worrying is a waste of valuable energy that you should use instead to do something about it. If you’re facing a situation you can’t do anything about, worrying won’t fix anything. All you do is tie yourself up in knots by fretting and brooding over what might happen.

So I decided to live by the mantra “No Fear.” It had nothing to do with the clothing brand and everything to do with freeing myself from the paralyzing fear that had ruled my life.

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What I discovered in the process is that fear was permeating my entire life and manifesting itself in a host of negative ways. In fact, author Marianne Williamson contends that there are only two human emotions: love and fear.

Clearly, my grandmother lived in a constant state of fear, the only cure for which was love. Something had made her afraid to love. Though she did much for my brother and me, her only grandchildren, including taking us in for six months while my parents looked for work, I felt it was more out of obligation, a sense of doing what was expected of her, than out of love.

Letting go of fear — for me, at least — is a lifelong effort. It has lessened considerably since my days of fretting over whether we’d survive the mortgage process for our first house. Our recent move represented only our second mortgage process, and though there were times I was ready to pull my hair out, I wasn’t fearful, as I had been before.

One of the techniques I have used to help me overcome fear is projecting love. I can’t tell you what the mechanism is for why it works to alleviate fear. All I know is that it does. It also helps keep your blood pressure down during those times when you might otherwise stress over something relatively minor.

grocery store checkout
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An example is you’re standing in the grocery store line behind someone who, for whatever reason, is irritating. Maybe it’s a woman with four rowdy kids in tow. Maybe it’s a man having trouble getting the card reader to work. Maybe it’s someone with two dozen coupons, half of which won’t scan. Maybe it’s someone with 23 items in the 12-item lane.

It’s easy to feel angry, maybe huff and puff to demonstrate your displeasure, perhaps even make a pointed statement about being inconvenienced. But next time it happens, try this instead. Try looking at the person with love. You don’t have to say anything. Just transform your thoughts from irritation to love. No one will know it but you. You won’t necessarily be doing anything for the other person. But what this exercise will do for you will be amazing. I promise.

And somehow it will also help you let go of that fear you carry around. Try it and tell us what happens.

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