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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Why Worry?, by George Lincoln Walton, M.D.

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Title: Why Worry?

Author: George Lincoln Walton, M.D.

Release Date: July, 2005 [EBook #8554] [Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on July 22, 2003]

Edition: 10

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK WHY WORRY? ***

 

Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

 

WHY WORRY?

BY

GEORGE LINCOLN WALTON, M.D.

CONSULTING NEUROLOGIST TO THE MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL

The legs of the stork are long, the legs of the duck are short; you cannot make the legs of the stork short, neither can you make the legs of the duck long. Why worry?—_Chwang Tsze_.

TO MY LONG-SUFFERING FAMILY AND CIRCLE OF FRIENDS, WHOSE PATIENCE HAS BEEN TRIED BY MY EFFORTS TO ELIMINATE WORRY, THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.

PREFACE.

No apology is needed for adding another to the treatises on a subject whose importance is evidenced by the number already offered the public.

The habit of worry is not to be overcome by unaided resolution. It is hoped that the victim of this unfortunate tendency may find, among the homely illustrations and commonplace suggestions here offered, something to turn his mind into more healthy channels. It is not the aim of the writer to transform the busy man into a philosopher of the indolent and contemplative type, but rather to enable him to do his work more effectively by eliminating undue solicitude. This elimination is consistent even with the “strenuous life.”

One writer has distinguished between normal and abnormal worry, and directed his efforts against the latter. Webster’s definition of worry (A state of undue solicitude) obviates the necessity of deciding what degree and kind of worry is abnormal, and directs attention rather to deciding what degree of solicitude may be fairly adjudged undue.

In the treatment of a subject of this character a certain amount of repetition is unavoidable. But it is hoped that the reiteration of fundamental principles and of practical hints will aid in the application of the latter. The aim is the gradual establishment of a frame of mind. The reader who looks for the annihilation of individual worries, or who hopes to influence another by the direct application of the suggestions, may prepare, in the first instance for disappointment, in the second, for trouble.

The thanks of the writer are due to Miss Amy Morris Homans, Director of the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, for requesting him to make to her students the address which forms the nucleus of these pages.

GEORGE L. WALTON.

BOSTON, April, 1908.

CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTORY II. EPICURUS AS A MENTAL HEALER III. THE PSYCHO-THERAPY OF MARCUS AURELIUS IV. ANALYSIS OF WORRY V. WORRY AND OBSESSION VI. THE DOUBTING FOLLY VII. HYPOCHONDRIA VIII. NEURASTHENIA IX. SLEEPLESSNESS X. OCCUPATION NEUROSIS XI. THE WORRIER AT HOME XII. THE WORRIER ON HIS TRAVELS XIII. THE WORRIER AT THE TABLE XIV. THE FEAR OF BECOMING INSANE XV. RECAPITULATORY XVI. MAXIMS MISAPPLIED XVII. THE FAD XVIII. HOME TREATMENT XIX. HOME TREATMENT CONTINUED

 

DEFINITIONS.

 

WORRY. A state of undue solicitude.

HYPOCHONDRIA. A morbid mental condition characterized by undue solicitude regarding the health, and undue attention to matters thereto pertaining.

OBSESSION. An unduly insistent and compulsive thought, habit of mind, or tendency to action.

DOUBTING FOLLY (_Folie du doute_.) A state of mind characterized by a tendency unduly to question, argue and speculate upon ordinary matters.

NEURASTHENIA. A form of nervous disturbance characterized by exhaustion and irritability.

PHOBIA. An insistent and engrossing fear without adequate cause, as judged by ordinary standards.

OCCUPATION NEUROSIS. A nervous disorder in which pain, sometimes with weakness and cramp, results from continued use of a part.

PSYCHO-THERAPY. Treatment through the mind.

No other technical terms are used.

 

I.

INTRODUCTORY

When Thales was asked what was difficult he said, “To know oneself”; and what was easy, “To advise another.”

 

Marcus Aurelius counselled, “Let another pray, ‘Save Thou my child,’ but do thou pray, ‘Let me not fear to lose him.’”

Few of us are likely to attain this level; few, perhaps, aspire to do so. Nevertheless, the training which falls short of producing complete self-control may yet accomplish something in the way of fitting us, by taking the edge off our worry, to react more comfortably to our surroundings, thus not only rendering us more desirable companions, but contributing directly to our own health and happiness.

Under the ills produced by faulty mental tendencies I do not include cancer and the like. This inclusion seems to me as subversive of the laws of nature as the cure of such disease by mental treatment would be miraculous. At the same time, serious disorders surely result from faulty mental tendencies.

In this category we must include, for example, hypochondria, a disturbance shown by undue anxiety concerning one’s own physical and mental condition. This disorder, with the allied fears resulting from the urgent desire to be always absolutely safe, absolutely well, and absolutely comfortable, is capable, in extreme cases, of so narrowing the circle of pleasure and of usefulness that the sufferer might almost as well have organic disease.

Neurasthenia (nervous prostration) has for its immediate exciting cause some overwork or stress of circumstance, but the sufferer not infrequently was already so far handicapped by regrets for the past, doubts for the present, and anxieties for the future, by attention to minute details and by unwillingness to delegate responsibilities to others, that he was exhausted by his own mental travail before commencing upon the overwork which precipitated his breakdown. In such cases the occasion of the collapse may have been his work, but the underlying cause was deeper. Many neurasthenics who think they are “all run down” are really “all wound up.” They carry their stress with them.

Among the serious results of faulty mental habit must be included also the doubting folly (folie du doute). The victim of this disorder is so querulously anxious to make no mistake that he is forever returning to see if he has turned out the gas, locked the door, and the like; in extreme cases he finally doubts the actuality of his own sensations, and so far succumbs to chronic indecision as seriously to handicap his efforts. This condition has been aptly termed a “spasm of the attention.”

The apprehensive and fretful may show, in varying degree, signs of either or all these conditions, according as circumstances may direct their attention.

Passing from serious disorders to minor sources of daily discomfort, there are few individuals so mentally gifted that they are impervious to the distress occasioned by variations of temperature and of weather; to the annoyance caused by criticism, neglect, and lack of appreciation on the part of their associates; to active resentment, even anger, upon moderate provocation; to loss of temper when exhausted; to embarrassment in unusual situations; to chronic indecision; to the sleeplessness resulting from mental preoccupation; and above all, to the futile regrets, the querulous doubts, and the undue anxiety included under the term worry, designated by a recent author “the disease of the age.”

Something may be accomplished in the way of lessening all these ills by continuous, properly directed effort on the part of the individual. Every inroad upon one faulty habit strengthens the attack upon all, and each gain means a step toward the acquisition of a mental poise that shall give its possessor comparative immunity from the petty annoyances of daily life.

In modern psycho-therapy the suggestion, whether on the part of the physician or of the patient, plays a prominent part, and it is in this direction, aside from the advice regarding occupation and relaxation, that my propositions will trend. I shall not include, however, suggestions depending for their efficacy upon self-deceit, such as might spring, for example, from the proposition that if we think there is a fire in the stove it warms us, or that if we break a pane in the bookcase thinking it a window, we inhale with pleasure the resulting change of air. The suggestions are intended to appeal to the reason, rather than to the imagination.

The special aim will be to pay attention to the different varieties of worry, and to offer easily understood and commonplace suggestions which any one may practice daily and continuously, at last automatically, without interfering with his routine work or recreation. Indeed the tranquil mind aids, rather than hinders, efficient work, by enabling its possessor to pass from duty to duty without the hindrance of undue solicitude.

In advising the constitutional worrier the chief trouble the physician finds is an active opposition on the part of the patient. Instead of accepting another’s estimate of his condition, and another’s suggestions for its relief, he comes with a preconceived notion of his own difficulties, and with an insistent demand for their instant relief by drug or otherwise. He uses up his mental energy, and loses his temper, in the effort to convince his physician that he is not argumentative. In a less unreasonable, but equally difficult class, come those who recognize the likeness in the portrait painted by the consultant, but who say they have tried everything he suggests, but simply “can’t.”

It is my hope that some of the argumentative class may recognize, in my description, their own case instead of their neighbor’s, and may of their own initiative adopt some of the suggestions; moreover, that some of the acquiescent, but despairing class will renew their efforts in a different spirit. The aim is, not to accomplish a complete and sudden cure, but to gain something every day, or if losing a little to-day, to gain a little to-morrow, and ultimately to find one’s self on a somewhat higher plane, without discouragement though not completely freed from the trammels entailed by faulty mental habit.

 

II.

EPICURUS AS A MENTAL HEALER

‘Tis to believe what men inspired of old, Faithful, and faithfully informed, unfold.

Cowper.

 

The suggestions offered in the following pages are not new. Many of them were voiced by Epicurus three hundred years before Christ, and even then were ancient history. Unfortunately Epicurus had his detractors. One, Timocrates, in particular, a renegade from his school, spread malicious and unfounded reports of his doings and sayings, reports too easily credited then, and starting, perhaps, the misconception which to-day prevails regarding the aims of this philosopher.

But when Marcus Aurelius, nearly five centuries later, decided to endow a philosophical professoriate he established the Epicurean as one of the four standard schools. The endorsement

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