I wish I could simply tell you, “Hey, this is just a gentle reminder that worrying is not the same thing as caring — worrying is the disempowered version of caring. Please use it as a superpower to acknowledge a threat but don’t abuse it, otherwise you’ll end up paralyzed by fear. Worry is meant to be transmuted into care (action) – it serves nobody when it just stays as worry. Worry is the base/raw material that we get to alchemize into valuable action.”
But this Gentle Reminder may take a little bit more to explain, I’m afraid, especially since most of us have been conditioned by our cultures or our households to use the powerful tool of WORRYING in such a disempowering way. This, for a lot of us, is one of those things we learn while growing up that we later have to UNLEARN for our own sake. It’s something I’ve started unlearning recently and the growth I’ve so far found from this unlearning is what I want to share with you today.
Worrying ≠ Caring
- feel or cause to feel anxious or troubled about actual or potential problems.
“he worried about his soldier sons in the war”
2. (of a dog or other carnivorous animal) tear at or pull about with the teeth.
“I found my dog contentedly worrying a bone”
A monkey with the superpower of fear
Weird question but: have you ever wondered why do we worry?
Take a moment to consider that. At the evolutionary level, what could have possibly been so advantageous about worrying that allowed our species to survive? What could possibly be so valuable about our species’ ability to worry that all of us come equipped with this… thing… that makes us freak out when we consider unfavorable outcomes or circumstances? 🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️
My simple answer would be something like this: it seems likely that we began to develop the ability to worry so that we may perceive threats (actual or potential) and be able to act upon them. Our ability to worry and act upon our fears may have very well been key in surviving and thriving on the planet through millennia.
When I see our ability to worry as this superpower that allows us to minimize the risk of pain, it actually sounds like an amazing technology that the human animal comes equipped with – doesn’t it?
Somewhere along the way, however, we may begin deploying this superpower in a disempowered way. This happens when we only associate it with anxiousness, helplessness and, perhaps more tragically, with caring. Far too often we erroneously use the weight of our worry to measure just how much we care. And this inability to distinguish worry from care brings about sooooo many unnecessary problems. From draining cycles of overthinking, to anxiety, to paralysis of action, to insomnia, to feeling disconnected from this very moment because our minds may be somewhere else, worrying about something that’s not even right here, right now in front of us.
Our superpower of worry, it seems, is a double-edged sword if we don’t learn how to use it. That’s why a conversation I recently had with my therapist — about the difference between worrying and caring — has brought about this important Gentle Reminder that I cannot possibly keep to myself: worrying is NOT caring – there IS a difference.
Hi, my name is Jova and I’m a recovering worrier
I used to worry all the time. About my future, about my loved ones’ future, about the state of the world, the state of the country, the state of my community, the state of my household—the state of my room! 😱
Goodness – when one goes down that rabbit hole, you realize that you can literally worry, right now in this moment, about SO MUCH. There are things that I’m not even aware of in this moment that, as soon as I open up my news apps, I know I can certainly worry about. I can bring my body into a state of worry at any single moment. We all can.
And, despite the discomfort it brings, worrying can also feel oddly good; to have something to worry about. It shows that we care, right?
Well, that’s where the unlearning begins.
Why the distinction between worrying and caring matters:
The sooner we’re able to understand and deploy this nuanced emotion, the better equipped we’ll actually be to act upon the challenges we individually face.
Unnecessary worrying undeniably fed the stress and anxiety levels that I would feel on a daily basis. Worst of all, I thought that I couldn’t help it; that I was simply born with this gift/curse to worry about everything and everyone. On the one hand, I was glad that I “cared” so much about everything and everyone and, on the other hand, I didn’t understand why it had to be so painful.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be painful if we learn to distinguish useless worrying from valuable concern.
Here are some interesting questions I’ll invite you to consider as we untangle worry from concern & caring. This is something I’ve been meditating on that has supported my unlearning process:
Can care exist without worry?
Can we care about something without worrying about it?
What would that look like? How would that feel?
Is worry a prerequisite for caring?
Here’s the tough pill to swallow 💊
I can worry all I want but it would not bring about progress.
Worrying is not progress.
Because caring implies action. And only in action can there be progress.
Far too often our ability to worry fools us into believing that we are actually doing something productive about the thing we care about. But that’s not entirely true – especially if the worrying is prolonged way beyond its purpose.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m NOT saying to not worry about anything at all and stop giving a sh*t about the things you care about. That’s definitely NOT my point nor today’s gentle reminder 😂
What I’m saying is this: worry effectively.
Remember, worrying IS valuable – it’s a superpower! The ability to perceive a threat to that which we care about is a lifesaver. But the purpose for summoning that fear is so that we may come up with ACTION. That’s where the real value is. In turning that fear into action for that which we love and care about. The fear found in worry is balanced with the love found in a caring action.
Remember this mantra: CARE BUT DON’T CARRY
It is possible to care about something without carrying it like a burden.
If I begin, right here in this moment, to consider everything that is “wrong” with the world and I worry and carry it as if it was my whole responsibility to make it better… well, I don’t know of a quicker way to burn out with so much stress and anxiety, rendering me unable to do anything about anything.
This doesn’t mean do not do something about it.
On the contrary, it means you can do something about it without putting your body through unnecessary levels of stress and debilitating worry.
Yes, it’s absolutely easier said than done. Unlearning the unhealthy ways in which we react to the world around us may very well be one of the most difficult things we get to practice in life. But one of the most worthwhile too.
If you recall from the last Gentle Reminder I wrote to you: you don’t need to wait for motivation or inspiration to DO things that you know are important. Motivation and inspiration is not always behind great/impactful action.
Give your worries a deadline to come up with a plan of action.
Here’s an idea: if there’s something that is worrying you right now, consider giving it the attention it clearly deserves. Take 15 mins out of your day today to sit down and do nothing but worry about it. Important: bring something to write with. For the first 10 mins, consider the source of your worry as you take deep breaths. Acknowledge it. This, after all, shows you that there is something hidden within the worry that you deeply care about. Feel free to write your feelings down if you’d like. Then, for the remaining 5 mins, start writing down potential courses of action. Make a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. etc. Try to keep writing without stopping and just let your thoughts flow with potential courses of caring action.
Then, once the 5 mins are up, put the writing materials away. You’ve already given the threat your undivided attention AND you also created courses of action. You don’t need to decide on any one action just yet. For now, you would have already succeeded in using your superpower of worry in an empowering way. That in itself is progress. Perhaps the next day (or sooner than later), you will be able to make a decision and take one of those actions. And, motivated or not, you will do it because you care about it.
Either that, or you will not do anything and continue to worry – and you will have to accept that progress will not be made.
Gentle reminder: you can’t have both the worry and the progress.
You have to decide which one you want more.
I think motivation & inspiration are far too overrated – but, that may be another conversation for another time. For now, I hope you continue to care more and carry less. It’s a practice. Yes it’s difficult but it’s oh-so worth it. I’m rooting for you!
Sending you lots of love and strength your way.
Heya! I’m Jovanny Varela Ferreyra, the founder of The Artidote. This post comes from a previous Gentle Reminder, a free newsletter with healing thoughts & beautiful artwork that I deliver every week to my community. If you’d like to receive something like this directly in your inbox every week, subscribe and become a part of the Gentle Reminders community from The Artidote! 🌻