Strategies to Stop Worrying

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Strategies to Help You Worry Less

  • Share your fears. "When you keep your concerns to yourself, they can grow out of proportion," Dr. Hallowell explains. Run your worries by someone you trust and you open yourself up to a different perspective.
  • Keep a freak-out diary. "Notice each time you're worrying, write it down and identify what you're afraid of, as well as the outcome you envision," says Dr. Borkovec. Most of the time events play out much better than expected. But if they don't, you'll have the opportunity to examine how well you coped. "Ninety-five percent of the time worriers are impressed with their ability to face challenges," he says.
  • Set up a worry-free zone. This is another one of Dr. Borkovec's techniques. He suggests choosing a time during the day -- lunchtime, say -- and designating it as totally worry-free. If you notice any worry during that time, set it aside for later. Over time you can add more hours to your stress-free zone. A related technique is to choose one specific time to worry -- from 5 to 5:30 p.m., for example.
  • Get the facts. Information can ward off panic. If you're nervous about a mole on your forearm, make an appointment to see a dermatologist. It helps to recognize when you're making judgments based on simply worry, not fact, says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, a psychology professor at Yale University and author of Women Who Think Too Much. Getting as many of the real facts as you can calms you down. One study found that knowing more details about upcoming surgery reduced patients' anxiety.
  • Make a plan. If past failures keep you up at night, try to let them go. "Whatever happened in the past isn't going to change no matter how much you worry about it. Accept it and move on by coming up with a plan to prevent it from happening again," suggests Dr. Borkovec. This way you assume control over the situation. The more you put yourself in control, the less you'll fruitlessly mull over the what-ifs.
  • Breathe deeply. Since worriers have a hard time staying in the here and now, take deep breaths to plant yourself in the present. Inhale slowly and deeply into your abdomen (not your chest), then focus on exhaling. You can use this technique anywhere to remain calm. Studies show that deep breathing lowers blood pressure and slows down your heart rate.
  • Visualize a happy outcome. If you become anxious while thinking about your yearly mammogram, picture the technician walking into the waiting room to tell you everything is fine. You can dissolve your anxiety just by holding this scenario in your mind's eye.
  • Gaze into a crystal ball. If you insist on looking into the future, Dr. Leahy suggests that you travel through an imaginary time machine and ask yourself: "How will I feel one month after this happens -- if it happens?" Most worriers who take the mental journey end up saying, "I can't remember what I was even worried about."


Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2009.


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