by Dorothy McCoy
Being worried about real things performs a needed function in our lives - it can lead to action. Needless worry, however, is often harmful, adding unwanted stress and even health risks to our lives. The trick is knowing one from the other and learning to deal with both. A first step is recognizing that worries come from things both real and imaginary. Imagination can litter our internal environment with every manner of fearful possibility, many of which do not exist out side of our fertile imaginations. Nonetheless, they trigger the same damaging chemical and physical changes as a genuine emergency.
When faced with worry, your body starts pumping out an array of chemicals (such as adrenaline) that cause a variety of physiological reactions. To combat worry, start by identifying how real the source of your worry is. Talking to someone about your fears or concerns can help differentiate between the products of your imagination and those things truly deserving of worry. It helps to know if the source of your worry is something you can control, or something over which you have no control. If the cause of your worry is something you can affect, then channel that worry into action.
Make a plan for dealing with the cause of your worry, and then carry it through. Such a reaction is a positive use of worry, helping you to overcome problems and threats. However, if there is nothing you can do about the source of your worry, it's just as important to act to counter that worry, rather than letting it build up harmfully inside you. You need to learn to let go. If something beyond your control might happen, it either will or won't. Worrying about it will produce only harmful, not positive results.
One strategy is to simply switch gears. Think of something over which you do have control. Turn to an enjoyable activity, perhaps with a friend, and focus on that rather than the source of your worry. Look to exercise, a fantastic way to relieve stress, burn calories, decrease depression and refocus your attention. Your goal is to stop the worry before it has the opportunity to take control of your emotions and thoughts. You must work quickly and strike when you first become aware of the negative thoughts that fuel worry. Do something, no matter how small, to help you refocus: exercise, splash cold water on your face, snap a rubber band, call a friend, or even imagine a big flashing stop sign in your mind's eye.
You may find it helps to listen to a relaxation CD or to go on a min-vacation in your mind (picture a place that makes you feel good). Whatever you choose should channel your thoughts in a more positive direction. Admittedly, it does take practice to refocus your thoughts away from worry. However, it can soon become second nature to relax, exercise or change thoughts, rather than resorting to counter productive worrying. If you find that chronic worry, especially over things you cannot control, is negatively affecting your life, you may find that talking to a counseling professional can be very helpful.
Dorothy McCoy of South Carolina specializes in self-help programs.