Not worrying about anything is everything

Story highlights

  • Useless worry is detrimental to our overall mental and physical well-being
  • A simple exercise will help you learn whether you're worrying needlessly

This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness. The series is on applying to one's life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. You can follow David at @davidgallan. Don't miss another Wisdom Project column; subscribe here.

(CNN)The plot of my only recurring nightmare goes like this: I'm back in college and have not attended one of my classes all semester (usually math or science), and now a final exam is imminent.

I'm completely unprepared, time has run out, and I don't even recall where the classroom is, so I can't find the professor. I wake up without a resolution.
    This is how every brain works. It diligently perseverates over worst-case scenarios, like an anxious new parent. It's just trying to keep us safe and usually does a great job at it.
    But that same vigilant hardwiring also makes it too easy to worry about the wrong things. It clouds our thinking with fear of outcomes that will never come to pass or aren't nearly as bad as we let ourselves imagine. That's the type of worry the writer Erma Bombeck equated to a rocking chair: "It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere."