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Inefficient Worrying

Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.
– Corrie Ten Boom

I have no idea who Corrie Ten Boom is, but he or she has a great, interesting name. I first heard the name less than five minutes ago when I Googled inefficient worrying. I was looking for a good definition but found the quote instead.

Actually, instead of “but found…”, I should say, “and found…” because, honestly it works.

If I understand and remember it right from years ago when I heard a psychiatrist use it, inefficient worrying is that situation where the same stressed out, worrisome thoughts go around and around and around in our heads. We fret, we stew, we obsess, seemingly without respite. Sometimes the thoughts are repeated pretty much verbatim like the needle on a record getting stuck so the same place in the song plays, plays again, plays again. For you people too young to remember records that played through a needle stuck in their tracks, think of a CD with a scratch that makes the place in the song repeat. If you only download music from the internet, neither of these things is relevant but I have no appropriate comparison.

I used to get caught up in inefficient worrying all of the time. Usually, this hits if I wake up in the middle of the night. Once I start, I can’t get back to sleep. I don’t think that the timing is a coincidence. Why wouldn’t stress attack at the time of day, or night so to speak, when I can usually do nothing about the situation that’s got me worried? I also have a sneaking suspicion that the inefficient worrying likes striking in the wee hours when I’m less alert, more foggy brained and, therefore, less able to reason out the situation and reduce the stress.

I can clearly remember times when I have obsessed over something in the pre-dawn hours, the same repetitive thought going through my mind over and over and over like a hamster on a wheel. Eventually, I fall asleep and then, when I wake up, exhausted, I wonder why I’d gotten so stressed in the first place.

In the past, when hit with bouts of inefficient worrying either when asleep or jarred awake, I’d eat. Suppressing the thoughts with food calmed me down — or appeared to. Either that or it just distracted me. If I was busy eating, I couldn’t focus on the stressful situations.

A colleague at work calls it mind chatter. I’ve heard her tell soldiers to leave the mind chatter behind. In order to help them do so, she suggests tapping some physical object with our fingers and telling ourselves that we’re leaving the mind chatter in the place that we’ve tapped. It sounds simplistic, but the technique actually works.

Most of the time, I go back to the Serenity Prayer again and remind myself that there are things that I cannot change. Acceptance helps diffuse the inefficient worrying, at least to the point where it doesn’t induce insomnia. My acceptance right then is understanding that I can’t do anything about the situation right at that time (midnight, 2 a.m., four in the morning) and knowing that it’s a waste of time to worry so incessantly about what I can’t change. At the same time, I try to encourage myself with the belief that if something can be changed, I have the courage to do so.

You might wonder why this topic came up for me tonight. I’m looking at a super busy two days to start the week. I have several plates to spin and situations to manage. I practically get agida just thinking about it all. Then I stop and think, “Oh for pity’s sake, Mary. There’s nothing coming up that you can’t handle.” That’s when I realize anew that inefficient worrying is called inefficient for a reason. It accomplishes nothing useful.

So for tonight when I go to bed after publishing this post, I’m going to park the mind chatter far from the bedroom. The fear is groundless. Like I said, I might be super busy, but I can handle spinning all of the plates that need to stay on top of their respective poles.