Most of us worry about something every day. It's natural, even healthy, but if you're turning into a worry wart, things have gotten out of control.
Dr. Edward Hallowell , psychiatrist and author of "Worry", offered some suggestions on how to stop worrying yourself to death.
"You shouldn't not worry," Hallowell emphasized. "If you don't worry at all, we call that denial. Worry serves a productive function."
Of course there are types of worry that are anticipatory and dangerous. Hallowell uses the term toxic worry.
"Toxic worry is when the worry paralyzes you," he explained. "Good worry leads to constructive action. You have a problem, you bounce a cheque, you set up a cash reserve fund. Whatever it is you're worrying about, you're taking constructive action. Toxic worry has the opposite effect: you become paralyzed, you slow down, you pull back, you go out and drink too much, you impulsively quit your job, get divorced."
Toxic worry makes you sick physically, Hallowell said.
So how to combat the potentially toxic effects of worry? Hallowell offered some advice.
The 5 steps
1. Never worry alone
By far the most important step, Hallowell said it's fine to worry, just don't get isolated and become the passive victim. When you're connected and brainstorming with someone else, you tend to come up with solutions.
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2. Get the facts
"Toxic worry is usually based on either lack of information or wrong information," Hallowell said. Don't worry about what if, as Dr. Shapiro noted, worry about what is.
3. Make a plan
Once you have the facts, make a plan and take action. Don't worry about whether the plan works or not, Hallowell said that life is about revising plans. You're much better to be active, he said, noting that toxic worry loves a passive victim. Stay in the active mode.
4. Take care of your brain
"If you're not in good shape brain-wise, you're going to be prone to getting rattled and worried," he said. "What do I mean by take care of your brain? Obvious steps. Get enough sleep. Physical exercise...one of the best anti-anxiety agents ever."
Also, maintain a proper diet. Don't self-medicate with a lot of carbs, junk food, alcohol, drugs, etc. He also mentioned that prayer and meditation, although often skipped over in medicine, can really play an important role in focusing the mind and reducing toxic worry.
And finally, regular doses of positive human contact. It's good to get a smile, a hug or a warm pat on the back.
5. Let it go
This is the hard one for toxic worriers.
"At least you can practice letting it go," Hallowell said. "Head in that direction. A lot of toxic worriers do just the opposite. They gather their worries unto them. They say ‘Where are my worries, come back,' almost as if they fell unsafe without them."
Hallowell said you shouldn't try to let your worries go until you've handled the first four steps, but once you have, it's definitely in your best interests.
"You don't want to carry the weight of the world," he said. "It slows you down at work, it slows you down in relationships, it's bad for your health physically."
He believes that 90 per cent of the time, toxic worry can be taken care of using these steps. However, if the system doesn't work for you, visit your doctor because there are effective medical treatments available.
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