Birds of Worry

That the birds of worry and care

fly over your head,

this you cannot change,

but that they build nests in your hair,

this you can prevent.

Chinese Proverb

I really like this quote.  It evokes a bold image that so vividly, and, in a way, comically expresses a truth about being human: we are, whether by design or choice, worriers.

Not that that’s a bad thing.  In fact, in a survival-of-the-fittest way, it may be a very good thing.  Anticipating a bumpy road ahead may prevent us from getting the flat tire.  Because we recognize that there may be reason for concern, we can use worry to move ourselves to action in order to promote the best possible outcome.

But when worry is becomes the object of focus rather than an agent for action, it only serves to occupy our time and fuel our destructive emotions.  For example, maybe you’ve found yourself in a situation such as this: you are anxious about a big event – maybe starting a new job – and you want to get a good night’s sleep before the big day.  You get to bed early, setting your alarm clock before laying your head on the pillow.  But, because your mind is preoccupied with thoughts and concerns for the day ahead, you toss and turn and lie awake, waiting for the alarm to go off.  The alarm goes off and you rise from bed, having rested little and feeling exhausted both mentally and physically and having accomplished nothing productive, and perhaps even increasing your level of worry.

That’s what worry can do.  It robs you of your time and your peace of mind.  It saps you of your energy and steals your happiness.  But what can you do?  There are real worries and concerns in life; if anything, life is challenging.  It’s a series of challenges. This is part of the human condition, like it or not.  Yet we have options.  We are creative, resourceful beings who have intellect and the power of free will.  We are problem-solvers and choice-makers.  So how do we deal with our worries?  Here are some ideas:

1. Accept that worry, concerns, and challenges are a part of human life.  No one said that life would be easy.  However, if you can recognize that challenges are a facet of human life, you will be able to put challenges in perspective, rather than letting them overwhelm you.  Challenges are often the impetus for growth in character and maturity.  Knowing that you will emerge from a challenge stronger and wiser can help you see your way through the challenge, rather than around it.

2. When possible, be a problem-solver.  Look at challenges that come your way as puzzles to be solved.  What do you know about the problem?  What information do you still need?  What have you tried in the past that was successful?  Taking the role of problem-solver will allow you to see yourself as being in control, rather than being a passive observer.  It allows you to take a position of strength, and puts you in the driver’s seat.

3. Be creative and use available resources.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “thinking outside the box”.  Being creative means realizing that there may be other ways to face a challenge than the obvious one, and then considering a different, perhaps unconventional, approach.  In other words, thinking outside the box.  Being creative also means realizing that there are resources for you to utilize.  First, you are a resource; you are a wealth of knowledge and life experiences.  Second, family and friends are resources.  They possess a wealth of knowledge and life experiences from which to draw, too.  Your community is a resource as well.  To be creative is to use all means available to you to arrive at a solution.

Observe the worry when it comes, then let the thought pass.

4. When challenges cannot be resolved, or the solution/outcome must be delayed, observe the worry when it comes, then let the thought pass.  Sometimes we have a limited ability to take action when faced with a challenge (e.g. illness).  Sometimes, after having taken all possible steps to deal with a problem, all we can do is wait for the outcome to unfold.  This is very difficult for us to accept, because we want to do something and we are unable.  It’s like having our hands tied behind our back.  This is also a part of the human condition.  We cannot control everything that happens in our lives.  But, with practice, we can control what thoughts we choose on which to focus.  When we observe that a thought is causing worry, negativity, sadness, anger, etc., we can consciously acknowledge it and then push it away.  We can go from feeling passive in our inability to affect outcome, to assertive in our ability to control unhelpful thoughts and emotion.  Even in times of challenge, we can find strength within ourselves to limit unnecessary and unproductive worry.

5. Look back on how you overcame challenges in the past.  During our time of worry or concern, we cannot see how we will make it through the challenge.  And yet, when we look back on the those times and the challenges that we successfully overcame, we realize that our worry was either for nothing or that it made little difference.  Sometimes we see that the outcome wasn’t as awful as we imagined it would be.  In fact, sometimes we realize that the anticipated awful outcome was the best outcome.  Knowing, as human beings, that we will face many challenges in our lives, we can choose to see ourselves as victors of many challenges, too.  We are life champions.

If you enjoyed the Chinese proverb at the beginning of the article, you can find more Chinese proverbs and sayings here: Chinese Proverbs and Sayings from


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