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Take a Worry Vacation

What are you worried about today? What if you just. . . didn’t?

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It’s August. A month when many people in the northern hemisphere unplug their laptops, buy some sunscreen, download a few books, and head out for some “check-out” time and decompression before the school year and busy-ness of fall descends.

This year? Not so much. Nearly everyone I know has either cancelled or seriously modified their vacation plans with no idea when travel will feel safe or even fun again.While airplanes, cruise ships and group-retreats might not be viable at present, one vacation we could all benefit from is a vacation from worry.

Amidst the bevy of emotions and experiences that 2020 has brought, from panic to boredom to hope to depression, one constant for many is an underlying sense of worry. Will I get the virus? Will someone I love get it? Is my job safe? Is my kid’s education being compromised? Is everyone else this lonely?

And for people who’ve had these fears actualized, the worries go deeper. I got the virus – what are the long-term effects? I lost my job – will I get another? I closed my business – now what?

No shortage of legitimate things to worry about.

At the same time, it’s worth asking how helpful is, it in the moment we’re in, to imagine future disasters and worst-case scenarios. Writer Leo Buscaglia tells us that “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Joy is at a premium these days for most people. Any chance we have to swap out some worry for some joy seems like a good idea.  

A study by Science Direct showed that over 91% of worries in people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder never came true. And Psychology Today says that if we give ourselves over to unbridled worry, we’re essentially feeling miserable on purpose just to brace for an event that may never happen.

Here’s an exercise to try. Pull up something you’re worried about. Hold it in your mind. Now let it go. Like a balloon in the air or a stone in the water, just release it. I promise you can grab it back whenever you want, but notice that moment of release. Is there a little more space? Peace? Relief?  

As insidious as it is, worry is a choice. It is an illusion that we actually have control over the future, and that our worries of today will mitigate possible pain of tomorrow. Just let it go for a minute, an afternoon, a week. Attach it metaphorically to an object that you put in a jar knowing that you can take it out whenever you want. For the time it’s in the jar, leave it be. If it tries to creep back in, remind it that it’s in timeout and you’re on vacation.  

In “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that even if we worry twenty times more, we can’t change the situation of the world. Goodness knows a lot of us would like to change some situations in the world.  Hanh adds that if we don’t know how to breathe, smile and live deeply every moment, we will never be able to help anyone, let alone ourselves.

Releasing worry is trusting that you will know what to do when the call arises. If a fear comes true, you will address it in that moment. And the next. And the next. Doing exactly that is how you’ve made it this far.

So for now, grab a sun hat and a tall glass of iced sumthin’-sumthin’ and go wherever you go for a change of view. (The backyard or the bathtub count.) Grab whatever book, music or craft gives you a little joy and stash that pesky worry in the jar. It’ll be there when you need it. Unless of course it decides to take a vacation of its own.
 
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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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