BREAK FREE FROM WORRY
Can't pack up your cares and woes? Here's what you can do!
A sick spouse, looming deadlines, mounting medical bills, piles of laundry...it's enough to make anyone anxious. But if these cares and more keep spinning through your head like a CD on continuous play or you always worry that the worst will happen, such frequent fretting will keep you up at night and drain the joy from your day. Though life's demands are here to stay, you can change the way you think about your woes. To stop obsessing...
Dwell on Your Worries—the Healthy Way
Schedule time each day to sit and think about what's bothering you, and allow yourself to fret only during "worry time." If concerns crop up before then, mentally file them away or jot them down in a special notebook to mull over later. Relegating worries to a specific period will limit their impact on the rest of your day.
Ideally, you should set aside 30 minutes to stew over problems, focusing on solutions rather than what-ifs. Experiments at Penn State University found that half an hour (but not less) of concentrated worry reduces worrying by about 40 percent, possibly because that's enough time to either exhaust a fear or to consider it more realistically.
One of the best ways to prevent worries from mushrooming is to take action, says Robert L. Leahy, PhD, author of The Worry Cure. "If you can act now, then you can turn worrying into a productive problem-solving experience. Ask yourself, ‘What can I do about a worry in the next 24 hours?'" he advises. "Can you make a list of things to do? Call people who can help? Read an article that might shed some light on the subject? If not, then chances are the problem is too vague or too far in the future to be much of a threat."
Do One (Small) Thing
"Once you have a plan for overcoming a problem, it can seem overwhelming to implement it," says researcher Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, a professor of psychology at Yale and author of Women Who Think Too Much. "Many times, by focusing on doing something small that can make a dent in your dilemma, you can break through these feelings of immobilization."
Find Another Focus
Worry can leave you spinning your wheels because a problem isn't solvable or you're just too agitated to put anxieties aside. In that case, short-circuit worry by going for a walk in a beautiful place, immersing yourself in a juicy mystery or movie, baking a cake or singing along with a CD of your favorite group.
"In my research, I have found that engaging in pleasant distractions for just eight minutes is remarkably effective in lifting people's moods and breaking their cycle of repetitive thought," says Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema. "Even more important, we have found that focusing on pleasant diversions improves people's outlook and their problem-solving skills."
Recall a Relaxing Time
Remembering, say, a day at the beach or a tranquil time in a small café in vivid detail-the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings-can interrupt your worrisome thoughts, says New York City psychotherapist Laurie Nadel, PhD. "Harvard research has shown that while you mentally relive a carefree time, your body will recreate the calming chemicals that were present when you experienced it," she says. "You'll quickly feel less apprehensive and more in control."
Conjure a Happy Ending
When you worry about things that might happen, you fill your mind with imagined details about how everything will turn out badly. "These ‘stories' actually make a worst-case scenario seem more likely since they are easier to remember than specific facts," says Dr. Leahy. Rather than brooding over the possibility of a bad outcome, replace that horror story in your head with one with a happy ending. For instance, if you're worried about the results of a medical test, picture the doctor giving you good news. "Since research shows that 85 percent of outcomes are positive, you might even be right!" says Dr. Leahy.
Tell Yourself Why a Worry Really Isn't a Problem
Is what you're worrying about the end of the world—or merely an inconvenience? "We typically fret about issues that may have unpleasant but not terrible consequences—for instance, that you might miss a deadline or a doctor's appointment," says Dr. Leahy. To prevent yourself from turning an ultimately inconsequential problem into a catastrophe, he advises patients to complete this thought: This is not a problem because...
Take Your Thoughts to Court
Anxious thoughts are just that—they aren't ironclad truths that will necessarily hold up under serious scrutiny. Examine the evidence that a fear will become reality—even ask friends if your concerns are rational. Challenge negative thoughts with helpful facts and focus on the positive aspects of the situation.
Even if the worst happens-often only a slim possibility-there will be things you can do to make yourself feel better or improve the situation. "In fact, research shows that worriers are just as good as non-worriers at solving real problems," says Dr. Leahy. "Seventy-nine percent of the time worrywarts say, ‘I handled it better than I thought I would.'"