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In every life we have some trouble,
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy!
~Bobby McFerrin, 1988 song lyrics
Don’t worry, be happy. You may recognize these four words as part of the Bobby McFerrin song or perhaps you know of the famous quote by Indian mystic and sage Meher Baba. Either way, it’s simple, succinct advice. It sounds easy enough, and almost a cliché–can we actually apply it in today’s hustle-and-bustle, high-stress world?
What do we worry about? Well, just about everything: sometimes we worry over excelling in school, being evaluated at work, being good parents, and making friends. We worry about getting enough exercise, getting enough sleep, eating right, and paying the bills. Some of us worry about feeding our families and keeping a roof over our heads. We worry about taking care of our loved ones, taking care of the environment, or even taking care of our spirituality. We worry about the meaning of life.
This anxiety hits everyone–it doesn’t discriminate. Even those who counsel the worriers worry. Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and other mental health practitioners fall prey to insecurities, worries, and even deep sadness. Rich or poor, young or old, anyone can experience these stressors.
Despite being a psychologist for some 15 years now, I, too, often experience anxiety and worry.
In light of all of this worry present in our lives, our society promotes, advertises and uses a plethora of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. Those prescription medications set new records for sales every year. In the United States alone, anti-depressant use has increased more than 400% in the past twenty years; and one in ten Americans now take medications to combat their anxiety and depression. But what about other approaches? Can we cope with our worries without medication?
Medication is a personal choice, and one best made with the advice of an appropriately-trained (and licensed) medical professional. Some may suffer such extreme anxiety that medication best addresses their trauma. But with the concern over side effects, long-term impacts, and dependency, it behooves us all to research and attempt alternative approaches.
As I mentioned, I have often experienced anxiety and worry in my own life. My alternative to meds? Prayer. My personal daily mantra is my favorite prayer, from the Baha’i Writings:
O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and my Refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life.
O God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to Thee, O Lord.
Happiness and freedom from anxiety, this prayer seems to say, are conscious choices. Rather than waiting for some future time or condition that will somehow make us happy, we can all make the willful choice to live into our own happiness now.
Besides prayer, there are many other things you can try when you feel anxiety creeping in. Helpful methods include meditation, journaling, counseling, or talking to a supportive friend. Many people find their joy in physical activity–such as walking, swimming, or yoga–as a way of counteracting stress and worry. Limit your caffeine intake. Use lavender oil in your bath. Try gardening. Focus on something positive. Do what you love to do–paint, write, sing, dance. Volunteer or help someone in need; helping others makes a great tool for getting our minds off our own worries.
I’ll share a funny story about de-stressing at work. Yes, don’t fret; you can lift your spirits and ease your mind at the office. My coworkers recently started a “happy train.”
No, I’m not kidding: at the start of the work day, someone pulls up Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song on her iPod, she plays it loudly, and she starts dancing down the hallway, grabbing coworkers on the way. Soon, a long train of happy dancers wiggle their way through the building, spreading cheer and laughter. If that doesn’t succeed in eliminating your worries, it will probably make you laugh with (and at) your silly coworkers, at the very least. Laughter, we all know, can ease pain, erase anxiety and elevate anyone’s mood.
The next time you feel anxious, please try one of these suggestions, or even a combination of them. If you wish, sit somewhere quiet and recite the aforementioned “refresh and gladden prayer” (as I like to call it). Enjoy the great outdoors as you walk or garden. Help out at your local homeless shelter. Or start a “happy train” at work. Make the choice: don’t worry, be happy.