10. Worrying Has It's Limits

Recognizing them is your first step forward.


Worry and worrying is a common theme in our community. You may label yourself an excessive worrier or tell me that you are unable to stop worrying about things. Many things. All the things. Worry becomes a trap that for many feels inescapable and creates a somewhat torturous loop.

I have written and said many times that worry is not a plan. Worry is thinking. Worry does not accurately predict or solve specific problems. Worry does not create any specific future nor block a specific future. Worry exists only in our heads. Worry, for the most part, is not required.

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.”


Given my stance on worrying, why would I bring this quote into the picture? It seems to almost encourage worry!

Seneca was one of the great Stoics. I’ve been a practicing Stoic for years without ever really knowing it. Stoic philosophy will arise now and then in The Anxious Morning because there are many recovery lessons to be taken from it. And no, being “stoic” does not mean being devoid of emotion. That’s one of the big misconceptions about Stoicism.

Seneca was not talking about specific worry or rumination. Rather, the Stoics teach us that we should live in accordance with the natural order of things. In the natural order of things, stuff goes wrong. We make plans, then sometimes they break. We want things to go smoothly, then sometimes they do not. Life happens. Sometimes it is not what we want, and it remains largely out of our control. Stoicism teaches us that we must acknowledge this, but also that we must acknowledge that we are inherently capable of handling it if things do go wrong.

In this light, Seneca is not teaching us that we must worry. He is teaching us that we must simply be aware and accepting of the fact that things can, and sometimes do, go wrong. Being aware and accepting of this fact does not require an attempt to think our way out of that. We can’t, no matter how hard we try. Worry does not create or influence the future in any way, so it is a pointless exercise in every sense of the word.

What would Seneca, or any of the great Stoics, do about this inconvenient truth about the Universe we live in? They would take some time to consider in general that things may go wrong. They may make practical plans to address some general conditions. Then they would trust that regardless of what does or does not happen, they will handle it and be OK.

Take a moment to consider your worry habits today. What do you believe about worry? What do you think it is accomplishing? Might you shift from worry to planning, then from planning to disengagement and acceptance? The trick in that sequence is learning to recognize when planning has reached its practical limit. That takes time and requires that we navigate through the discomfort of leaving some plans un-made when our fear is telling us that this is a mistake. But this exercise is well worth it.

You can’t just decide to stop worrying, but you can start to understand the role it plays in your life and it’s limitations. That’s a step in the right direction.

On Monday we’re going to visit the topic of exposure and exposure therapy for the first time.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

- Benjamin Franklin

Every Friday I’ll share one of my favorite quotes. They’ll often have direct application in recovery, but sometimes they’re just generally funny, inspiring, or thought-provoking.  I hope you enjoy them.