Have you ever felt so worried that you felt sick?
That’s because worry sets off a stress response in our bodies. It tells our body that we are facing danger, even if no real threat is present.
We are the only mammals that “can set off the fight-or-flight response just by imagining ourselves in a threatening situation.” ~Bruce McEwen, The End of Stress As We Know It
Often this worry is too much to contain within our own minds and bodies, so we leak it onto others. This is how worry spreads like the flu. And the more our loved ones “catch” our worry, the more it spreads and the sicker we get.
How Worry Spreads Like Sickness
Author David Shannon beautifully illustrates how one’s worry can spread in his children’s book A Bad Case Of Stripes . I know you may not have kids, but I think this book has a message we can all relate to. This story suggests how to vaccinate ourselves from letting worry spread like sickness.
The main character, Camilla Cream is worried about what other people think of her. You see, she has been hiding the fact that she loves lima beans. On the first day of school, she’s so worried about being liked that she gets sick with stripes that cover her entire body.
When she attends school, the other kids realize that they can change her colors and shapes by calling her different names. Camilla begins changing quickly to what everyone thinks she should be. It becomes very disruptive to the learning environment, and the principal sends her home, fearing that the other kids might catch it too.
Now Camilla is more self-conscious than ever as no one wants to be around her. None of the doctors, specialists, or experts can cure her. And the more the experts diagnose and prescribe treatments, the more she changes into something she isn’t. She is becoming what others think about her, sadly almost unrecognizable and literally fading into the walls.
Luckily, a wise grandmother-like woman shows up at the Cream house with lima beans. Camilla reluctantly eats what she loves and turns back into herself. The wise woman validates Camilla stating, “I knew the real you was in there somewhere.”
Vaccinate Against The Spread of Worry
Can you relate to Camilla or her parents? If you have ever given up yourself to be liked or keep the peace, you have probably felt like Camilla. Or maybe you’re family members’ reactions to your problem is bigger than your own worry.
Did you notice how the more people who worried about Camilla, the more they thought they knew what she needed to do? These well-intentioned caregivers caught the worry and thought they knew what she needed to do to get better. Yet the more they treated her sick, the sicker she got.
While this children’s author is not writing a self-help book, I think he creatively presents two ways to vaccinate against the spread of worry:
#1. Be Yourself Even If It’s Different: I always tell my kids that differences don’t mean you are better or worse, just different. Embrace your differences instead of trying to hide them, so you can let someone get to know you. When you are yourself, you often find you have more in common with others than you think.
#2. Be a Calm, No-Advice Giving Presence: It is very hard to sit still when a family member is hurting or worried. But sometimes what they need most is for you to believe they can find their own answers. Instead of managing your discomfort with advice, fixing, and shaping up, just be with them.
Worry doesn’t have a flu season. It can lurk around any corner and catch you at anytime. Develop your own vaccination to interrupt the worry that is trying to make you sick.
WORRY Management GIVEAWAY: Answer one of the following questions in the comment section, and you will be entered into a random drawing to receive a print copy of my e-book Take Charge of Your Worry.
1. What do you worry about? And how do do you interrupt it?
2. What topics and/or questions would you like to read about in my blog?
I am writing this blog for you. It is my hope that it becomes a place you can share and exchange ideas with others, as we journey to feel more like ourselves. Comment by November 30, 2012 at 8am (CST) to be entered in this giveaway.