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The Energy of Worry: Replace it with Something Else

My daughter, a formerly straight-A student is getting a D in chemistry. A D. I find myself twisting into a knot of worry whenever I think about it. Does this D mean she will turn into a dropout? Does it mean that she won’t get into college?


And part of me doesn’t give a fuck. The fact that my sixteen-year-old daughter has survived this year-and-a-half of pandemic stress without reverting to drugs, cutting, starving herself, or entering a deep depression is enough. I am grateful that she still comes into the kitchen for breakfast with an occasional smile. I am happy that we still eat dinner as a family. It gives me profound joy to see her driving off, finally safe and vaccinated, to hang out with her friends (finally!!!) instead of staying cooped up her dark room where she’s been for a year and change.


I worried throughout the whole crisis of the pandemic. I worried about the world, about my city, about my parents, but mostly I worried about my daughter. She is the receptacle of my worry. When my whole family and most of my community finally got vaccinated and the threat of COVID diminished my worry for my daughter fell away.


But then I just replaced my worry. Instead of worrying about her contracting and spreading COVID, I worry about her D in chemistry. This morning I asked myself what the point of this replacement worry was. At this point in the school year, there is nothing she can do to get her grade up. It’s a done deal. Instead of spending time being delighted that my daughter came out of this hideous school year mentally sound, I worry about one grade. Why?


At the same time that I worry about my daughter’s D in chemistry, I watch her engaging with friends, taking babysitting jobs, making cookies, getting decent grades in the rest of her classes. Worry is like fuel that keeps a fire raging. It serves some purpose for me, it keeps me engaged. Worry assures me that I am doing my job as a parent — that I am invested, aware, involved in my daughter’s wellbeing.


But what if I replaced worry with encouragement and excitement? What is I focused my energy on cheering my daughter on for scoring a great paying babysitting gig on Sundays? What if I applauded her tenacity to stick with a bizarre soccer season of socially distanced, mask-wearing bullshit? Wouldn’t that create the same fuel — the same feeling of being an active, engaged, supportive parent?


And wouldn’t it make me feel better? I think it would. But I have become dependent on, habituated to the feeling of worry. It is like an old, reliable friend, the one you always meet at the same time, in the same place for a cup of the same kind of tea. I’m bored with the worry. It’s not serving me and it’s not serving my daughter. By worrying so much I am missing out on all of the celebration, the good stuff.


So what is my plan? Like all mental shifts, I have to be intentional. It’s like keeping a gratitude journal (which I do). Every night, no matter how hard or unpleasant my day was, I take time to write three things I am grateful for. It makes me happy. It sends me off to sleep with a feeling of contentment. It reminds me of all the good things in my life.


I could do the same thing with my worry. Every time I start to worry about my daughter’s D in chemistry I can turn on my mental heels and think about something I want to applaud her for. Last night my daughter and her friend were making cookies in our kitchen. They’ve been friends since they were babies and have a wonderful, comfortable rapport. They were laughing and joking, teasing each other; they were happy.


I went to bed listening to their banter. While I ran a bath I wrote in my gratitude journal, just three things. One of them was the laughter downstairs.

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