Don’t worry – it’s a waste of time

MY WEBBED feet have developed those wrinkles you get when you've been in the swimming pool too long. And I have a bad case of mould and rising damp too, which is causing people to sniff inquiringly when I'm around them. Extremes of weather certainly seem to make people get a bit frazzled around the edges. I guess it messes with our routines because it is hard to get out and about. Some even get trapped for a few days, which can test any capacity for tolerance. The people who seem to deal best with this are those who use the opportunity to create a novel routine, do something different perhaps, take up a new hobby or pick up one that they've not attended to for a while.

This is what we call "reframing" in psychological circles: seeing a situation from a completely different angle. In this case, as an opportunity to do something new rather than just grizzle or play helpless. It is certainly less stressful.

All this rain reminds me of my childhood and most of my teen years growing up in England.

I used to love cricket and would look forward almost all week to Saturdays when I'd play for the school in the morning and then a district club in the afternoon. Sadly, it rains a fair bit in the Old Dart and summer sport can be a bit of a hit and miss affair; something like the Aussie cricket team at the moment. So, I'd have many sleepless Friday nights worrying about whether the weather the next day was going to be my friend or my darkest enemy.

Certainly it was not something I found to trust very much.

It was my earliest experience of the futility of prayer and the waning delusion that there is a friendly guy in the sky waiting on my every need. Being something of a slow learner it took me some time to realise the futility of my worrying.

I finally realised that no matter how much I worried, and how much sleep I didn't get, it made no difference to the weather. No correlation whatsoever.

Even more interesting was the realisation that if I didn't bother worrying and had a good night's sleep then I played better if we did get on to the park. Funny that.

Mind you, this change of mind is not so easy and there was a battle between emotion and rationality for a while. It was a blessed relief when rationality finally won.

In my clinical and organisational work I came upon the same phenomenon time and time again. I think this is one of the benefits of being a psychologist - one gets to see that others make the same mistakes as you. It's very self-affirming in lots of ways. The down side of course is that you also see disorders in yourself as well. Sometimes it's like looking in a mirror and can be very frightening.

People who worry a lot often have a problem with differentiating between things that the worry might change and things that it won't. I can worry like crazy about things like the weather, if the plane will run on time, the possibility of traffic being slow or any number of things that I can do nothing about. But doing so is utterly futile and extremely energy sapping, even exhausting.

It is much better to spend time worrying, in a functional, problem-solving sort of way, on things that one might be able to influence. A much better use of what are limited personal resources: in other words we get tired easily.

The point about functional worrying is important too. There is dysfunctional worrying, which involves just fretting but not doing anything other than worrying. A bit of a waste of precious time you'd think.

Now, if I can find my cricket bat, my flippers, snorkel and goggles I may just be right for a quick game if you're interested.

Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist. You can visit his blog at

Topics:  opinion

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