EP 11: Mantra Monday – Worrying is like paying interest on a debt not owed
I drove by this church near our house the other day. They always have cool quotes on their road sign in front of the church. This time it read “Worrying is like paying interest on a debt not owed.”
I don’t know if it’s woman thing, or a people thing, but I tend to worry a lot. Or at least my mind turns over the same thought a lot – often times, that thought is negative.
Our mind is busy, and can keep us stuck re-circling the same stories of the past or future. We ruminate over events from the past, recycling those same stories. Even though the event has already happened, we relive it again and again in our head. Or we spend time worrying or planning the future, looping the same dialogue all of which hijacks the present moment.
Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert discovered we spend half of the day thinking about something other than what we’re actually doing. They also found that when people are not thinking about what they’re doing, they’re not as happy as when they’re engaged. In particular, negative mind wandering — thinking negative thoughts, or wishing you were somewhere else — was more likely to lead to unhappiness in their next moments.
Worrying is like paying interest on a debt not owed. Worrying and ruminating is annoying and we know they don’t do us any good. What’s really scary is that these thought patterns can actually be really harmful to your health.
For those of you, like my engineer husband, who loves scientific data, mind wandering and specifically rumination, can negatively influence our health.
In the best-selling book by Elizabeth Blackburn “The Telomere Effect” she explains that our chromosomes that carry our genetic material have caps on our DNA, tiny protein chains that are called telomeres. Like the plastic cap on the ends of a shoelace that protect it from fraying, telomeres form caps at the ends of the chromosomes and keep the genetic material from unraveling. Telomeres help determine how fast a cell ages. When they become too short, the cell stops dividing altogether. Telomere length gives a sense of your underlying health. Longer telomeres are good and shorter telomeres are associated with a reduced life span and greater risk for the many chronic illnesses that gain traction with aging. Those of us who want longer and healthier lives will want longer telomeres.
Even though you are born with a particular set of genes, the way you live can influence how they express themselves. What this means: aging is a dynamic process made up of your lifestyle choices that could possibly be accelerated or slowed — and, in some aspects, even reversed. So how does the church sign about worrying relate to your health and aging process?
According to an article on ted.com, Scientists have learned that 5 thought patterns appear to be unhealthy for telomeres including:
Cynical hostility which is defined by high anger and frequent thoughts that other people cannot be trusted.
Pessimism or negative thinking.
Thought suppression is the attempt to push away or not deal with unwanted thoughts and feelings.
Mind wandering, usually leading to negative thoughts or just keeping us stuck in busy chatter in our mind.
Rumination is the act of rehashing problems over and over which is different than thoughtful reflection or internal analysis.
Often when we ruminate, or turn over a story, we tend to go toward the negative. None of this works in your benefit. Rumination never leads to a solution, only to more ruminating.
“When you ruminate, stress sticks around in your body long after the reason for the stress is over, in the form of prolonged high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and higher levels of cortisol. When you are thinking negative thoughts about the past, you are more likely to be unhappy, and you may possibly even experience higher levels of resting stress hormones.”
The more you allow your mind to wander into negative thought patterns and ruminate over the past these create a conditioned response that is often automatic, exaggerated and domineering. They take over your mind. It’s as if they tie a blindfold around your brain so you can’t see what is really going on around you.
We think we don’t have control over our thoughts, but really, thoughts and feelings come and go. They’re just thoughts. They’re not important unless we give them weight.
The good news is that when you become more aware of your thoughts, you take off the blindfold. You won’t necessarily stop the thoughts, but you have more clarity. Meditation and focusing on your breath creates awareness of your thoughts and brings you back to the present moment.
Take a moment and take a few cleansing breaths. Imagine watching your thoughts like a movie screen. Instead of getting caught up in that thought and story, step back and create some space between you and it so you can have some clarity. From this awareness, you can choose a different response, rather than unconsciously looping that same negative story. This brings you back to the moment and to your power.
Lately my mind has been wandering a lot! Just by being aware that your mind has wandered can help you bring your focus back to the present moment. Sometimes when focusing on my breath or even meditation is not working, I will literally say out loud “telomeres,” which snaps me out of my mind chatter and reminds me that my rumination is actually negatively affecting my cells and aging them faster. With time and practice, you will learn to encounter your own ruminations or negative thoughts and return to the present moment…which is exactly where you’re supposed to be.
The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn