How to handle excess worry, even if it’s about real things

everyday96 asks: I feel like nothing I do makes sense. I can’t remember the last time I actually smiled or laughed from my heart. You see, my parents are both a little overaged (56 and 57 years old), but more importantly they both have diseases from which they can drop dead at any moment. I try to help out best I can, but I’m just a kid, and even if I do help, I always feel like I’m doing something wrong. I’m not only worried about them, but now I’m also worried about myself. I haven’t been able to sleep lately because I’m afraid that if I do I might wake up an orphan. Sometimes I think they would have been better off if I wasn’t born at all. They do everything for me, but I don’t know if I can give it back. Please help me – I don’t know what I have to do to make them feel better. If I can see them smile again I’d be the happiest boy in the world.

Hi everyday96 –

There’s a word for what you’re suffering, and it’s called Anxiety.  Anxiety is what you have when you worry all the time, and worry too much.  Now note, no one is saying that you’re worrying about ridiculous things (like, say, worrying that bears will turn into bunnyrabbits).  But it is when you worry so much about even sensible things that the worry becomes a bigger problem than the problems you’re worrying about!

Now I don’t know what diseases your parents have, but I can say that 56 and 57 aren’t all that old.  They might be older than your friends’ parents, but most people live many decades beyond that age.  But again, I don’t know about their health.

The first thing that you, and they, need to do is to make plans for what would happen if these diseases actually incapacitated them (a big word for making them unable to do the things they do).  Do you know where you’d live, and who you’d live with?  Do you know how you’d live, how you’d eat, and so on?  Because that’s a really good thing for all parents to arrange for, regardless of their age or health.  (For example, Handsome has a paragraph in his will saying that a certain percentage of his money would go to whoever takes care of me if he should pass away; of course we hope that never has to happen, but it’s good for me to know I’ll be safe).

Then the second thing is for you and your parents to have a really serious discussion about how bad their prognoses are (another big word, this one meaning their likely futures with their diseases).  Do the doctors think they’ll live more than a year?  More than ten years?  Parents often hide their health problems from their kids, not realizing that the kids might then worry that things are worse than they actually are!

And then, once you know their prognoses and what would happen to you if something happened to them…   let it go.  For now, there’s nothing you can do about this situation.  Any time you catch yourself starting to worry, just remind yourself that you’re spending way too much time with your worry, and not enough with your parents, whom you clearly care very deeply about.  The fact is, it’s not your job to “give back” to them now.  You will have a great chance to do that if they manage to stick around long enough.  But while you’re young, your parents’ greatest wish is that you become strong, successful, and happy.  So make great friends, stay healthy, do as well as you can in school, and start finding ways to smile again!

And in the meantime, learn to relax!  This worry is a terrible problem – you need to find ways around it.  Can you meditate a little every morning and every night?  Just sit quietly with your eyes closed, paying attention to your breath, for maybe five minutes.  If you can do that, twice daily, you will eliminate a lot of this stress.  Also exercise, try to get enough sleep, and eat well.  All of these will help you out a lot.

But I want to reiterate that you are not wrong to be concerned about your parents’ health.  I just want you to, with them, learn all you can about it, and arrange for every contingency (yet another big word – this one means whatever might happen), and then to accept that you’re in as good a position as possible, and start spending more of your time enjoying your parents, and less worrying about them.

And if you do all that, everyday96, and it’s still not enough, then I would urge you to find a good therapist.  Someone who specializes in anxiety reduction and relaxation.  The happier and more relaxed you get, the better off your parents will be.  So that’s your job right now.

Feel free to write me again about any questions you have about this, but I do believe that if you do these things, your life – and theirs – will get much much better.


Good Luck!



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