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Slices of Life: Wee morning worries

I lie awake sometimes, in bed, in the wee hours of the morning and I think. Better put, I brood — but not about a single topic. My brain goes from here to there, whizzing, whirring around about from subject to subject and then back again to a previous one. At a time when my gray matter should be resting, it operates at a rapid pace because apparently at 4 a.m. instead of sleeping and dreaming about happy things my brain thinks I should be doing something much more productive, like worrying.

That's right. I worry. In the middle of the night when I should be sleeping, I think of things (many things) to fret over and about.

Most of these aren't big or important concerns. In the overall scheme, they are details. Whether we are out of milk. Tomorrow's to-do list. Deadlines. If I remembered to plug my phone in before going to bed.

Many of my fears involve situations beyond my control. Incidents that could or might (but probably won't) happen, like a car crash or illness or toilet overflow.

Still others deal with circumstances I can't change. Growing older. Watching others grow older. Storms. The weather. Whatever.

I'm guessing I'm not alone. We humans are weirdly wired that way. Wired to worry.

I found the explanation for this interesting. According to the all-knowing internet, humans worry because we live, at least partially, in the future.

Most worries are about future events. The future is uncertain. Uncertainty means we are not in control. Loss of control is scary — and worrisome.

Giraffes, and most other animals, do not worry because they do not live in the future. If a lion attacks, they run. When they are done running they go about their daily business — if they are still alive. With either outcome, worry doesn't enter the picture. Fear, yes. Worry, no.

Since we are not giraffes, we lie awake in bed at night and let anxiety get the best of us. The rational and logical me understands this is all a waste of time. Worrying over nothing or something that probably will never be when I could and should be sleeping is just pointless.

But what's the alternative? Last night — or this morning; take your pick — my rambling brain stumbled on a pretty simple answer, and it is not being reincarnated as a giraffe. I was chastising myself for the middle-of-the-night ruminations and thought, "Why are you thinking all these negative thoughts? You have so much to be thankful for."

And there right in front of me was the alternative: gratitude.

Instead of worrying, instead of counting sheep (or giraffes), I started counting the things I had to be grateful for.

Cozy pillow came first, followed by cool, clean sheets and a warm comforter. Husband breathing loudly, but never snoring, beside me. The furnace kicking in. An upcoming kid's sporting event scheduled for the next day. My sons sleeping in their rooms just down the hall. The quiet of the night.

I could have gone on and on, but I didn't because in the midst of my thankful musings the impossible happened.

I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I felt a little guilty about my effortless slumber because I hadn't even begun to give thanks for the multitude in my arsenal. I checked out on giving thanks before getting to the really good stuff. Gratitude provided a solution that was just too easy. Maybe I should have tried harder to stay awake and count my blessings. This thought, of course, created the obvious outcome.

It made me worry.

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.