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Worry can be dangerous to your health
By Barrington H. Brennen, 2000


Question: I worry a lot, and now I am getting sick because of it. What can I do?

Answer: Worrying has no positive effect. In fact, it can be deadly. You can die of worry long before the situation you are worrying about is corrected. Worry is the cause of much domestic strife, business failures, social injustices, economic crises, seemingly incurable sicknesses, and premature death says John Haggai in his book "How to Win Over Worry."

Worry is the public enemy Number One, not only because of its devastating effects upon the individuals involved, but also because of the way it ravages society. Charles Allen in his book, "Victory in the Valley of Life," states: "We need to remember that the very existence of a problem is proof that there is a solution . . . The entire world is based on a system of opposites: good and evil, high and low, day and night, love and hate, long and short, pain and pleasure, sickness and health, and on and on they go." When we know there is a solution, a lot of worry goes out of any situation.  

Psychologist Dr. Dorothy McCoy, in her article “The Evolution of Worry” states:

 “Every system in your body is affected by worry. In addition to raising blood pressure and increasing blood clotting, worry can prompt your liver to produce more cholesterol, all of which can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke. Muscle tension can give rise to headaches, back pain, and other body aches. Worry can also trigger an increase in stomach acid and either slow or speed up muscle contractions in your intestines, which can lead to stomach aches, constipation, diarrhea, gas or heartburn. Worry can affect your skin (rash or itch). It can impact your respiratory system by aggravating asthma. Growing evidence even suggests that chronic worry can compromise your immune system, making you more vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, perhaps even cancer.”

The word "worry" comes from the Greek word "merimnao" which is a combination of two words: "to divide" and "mind." Worry then means to "divide the mind." It means when you worry, you divide the mind between worthwhile interests and damaging thoughts. James 1:8 gives us a strange verse for this: "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." In other words, James is saying that a person whose mind is divided is unstable in all his or her ways: the emotions, the thought processes, the decisions, and judgments. To have peace, you need singleness of mind. "Worry divides the feelings. Therefore, the emotions lack stability. Worry divides the understanding. Therefore, convictions are shallow and changeable. Worry divides the faculty of perception. Therefore, observations are faulty and even false. Worry divides the faculty of judging. Therefore, attitudes and decisions are often unjust. These decisions lead to damage and grief" (Haggai). Henry Ward Beecher once said: "It is not work that kills people. It is worry. Work is healthy. You can hardly put more work on a person that he or she can bear. Worry is rust upon the blade. It is not the revolution that destroys the machinery, but the friction. Worry secretes acids, but love and trust are sweet juices."

When you worry in the extreme, you lose the power of the will. Why? Because the mind is so divided, it cannot act on one action. It is like the mule who stood between two bundles of hay and starved to death trying to decide from which stack to eat. In other words, worry can lead to a nervous breakdown. In this situation, the pressures have grown so great as a result of the divided mind, that the victim ceases to struggle over his or her problems and responds in a depressed and passive manner.

In psychology, several terms can be used to describe or explain worry in some form. Some of these terms are anxiety, phobia, and hypochondriasis, just to name a few. According to the psychologist "bible" called the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," 4th edition, "hypochondriasis is the preoccupation with the fear of having, or the idea that one has, a serious disease based on the person’s misinterpretation of symptoms of bodily functions." I simply call this worrying about your physical health to the point that you really get sick. If one’s anxiety and worry are accompanied by restlessness, fatigue, lack of concentration, irritability, muscle tension or disturbed sleep, and if other psychological factors are present, a psychologist may diagnose such a person with generalized anxiety disorder.

It’s amazing how powerful the human mind is. Worry can lead to many diseases: heart problems, hypertension, diabetes, and even headaches to name a few. On the other hand, worry can destroy relationships, break down trust, and shatter one’s spiritual relationship. John Haggai states: "When you worry, you accuse God of falsehood." God’s word says ". . . .All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28. Worrying is calling God a liar. Worry is sin. Why? Because you distrust God and destroy the body God asked you to care for.  How can we tell if someone is worrying? Here are a few examples of worry behaviors: frequent telephone calls to loved ones at work or at home, refusal to read obituaries or other negative events in the newspaper, and cleaning one’s house daily in the event that someone drops by (Barlow, 1993). A person may not see that these behaviors contribute to the maintenance of anxiety.

Dear friend, I do not know the reason why you worry, but one important principle you must remember, worry is a choice. Yes, we choose to worry. It is not thrust upon us. We are not coerced to worry. Therefore, we can choose not to worry. How can we ask a mother or father not to worry about their wayward son or daughter? It is natural for parents to be concerned. It is natural for parents to "worry" if their son would get into trouble, if he refuses to listen and respect their wishes. But when worry drives us up a wall, sap us of vital powers to think, eat, and live, then the problem becomes worry itself, not the child. Choose not to worry so you can have power to think and to respond intelligently. Choose not to worry so you can give unconditional love in return to the one who is causing the pain. Remember one must have a single mind, not a double one. Worrying is having a double mind that cannot serve intelligently "two masters."

If you are a father worrying about your pregnant fourteen-year-old daughter who hasn’t been home for two weeks because she is living with her boyfriend, remember worry will sap you of the energy to truly love her when she returns. For she will return someday. Pray for her. If you are a grandmother worrying about your son’s failing business and marriage, remember he is depending on your strength, stability, and energy. For one day he will come and cry on your shoulder. Pray for him. If you are an entrepreneur and worry about the escalating costs and threats to shut down the business, remember if you worry when the business shuts down, you are going down with it. Love your self.  

Work those muscles. Exercise is a fantastic way to relieve stress, burn calories, decrease depression and work toward wellness.   Dr. McCoy advises:

“Stop the worry before it has the opportunity to take control of your emotions and thoughts. You must work quickly and strike when you first become aware of the negative thoughts that fuel worry. Do something: exercise, splash cold water on your face, snap a rubber band, call a friend, or see a big flashing stop sign in your mind's eye. You may want to listen to a relaxing music or go on a mini vacation in your mind. Whatever you choose should channel your thoughts in another more positive direction. Practice, Practice, Practice. It will soon become second nature to relax, exercise, or change thoughts, rather than doing the old counter-productive worrying.” 

 Yes, it is natural for us to be concerned about problems in our lives. However, worry is Satan’s strategy to weaken us so we can fall on our knees in distress and give up. Don’t give him that chance. Choose not to worry today. 


Barrington H. Brennen, MA, NCP, BCCP, is a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to barringtonbrennen@gmail.com  or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org  or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002.






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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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