Uncontrolled anxiety is a giant obstacle to personal happiness. Worry causes stress, and stress saps our strength, disturbs our sleep, fries our brain and consistently mucks up our best efforts to stay healthy, relaxed and fat-free.
And yet there is so much to worry about these days. Jobs, money, kids, Afghanistan.
Of course, my list will be different from your list — is this a harmless spider bite or the start of necrotizing fasciitis? — but we all share a common need to deal with our anxiety in clever, productive ways.
That's why I want to offer some coping strategies recommended by psychologist Robert L. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and author of 17 books, including "Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before They Unravel You." Some may sound truly weird, but try a few anyway. Leahy has seen these methods work wonders for hundreds of patients:
1. Turn Your Anxiety Into a Movie. One creative way to let go of a worry, Leahy says, is to disconnect yourself from it. Imagine your anxiety, your fear presented to you as a film or piece of theater. You're in the audience. You're listening to the guy in the funny hat sing and dance about your overdrawn bank account or your underwhelming marriage. He's acting out your worries all right, but you're detached from the drama. You are the witness. You are calm.
2. Set Aside Worry Time. Worries show up, constantly and unannounced. You're in the midst of washing your car, and bam!, you begin to panic about missing your friend's birthday. Healy suggests you set aside a specific time every day to worry about your worries. Let's say you decide on 5 p.m. If it's morning and a worry hits, jot it down and decide to focus on it later. Do that all day long. By the time 5 p.m. rolls around, many of your worries will seem too silly to deal with, and you'll have spent most all the day worry-free.
3. Breathe It Out. You don't have to be a yogi to practice this one, but it sure helps. Next time you feel tense, notice your breath. You're probably holding it. Ask yourself: Where is my breath now? Where is my mind? Link them by listening to your inhalations and exhalations, an easy and ancient strategy for calming your nerves. Breathe in, breathe out, moment by moment. When your mind wanders to Worryville, and it will, bring your attention back to your breath. You can do this 10 times a day if you need to.
4. Repeat Your Worry Until You're Bored Silly. Leahy calls this the boredom cure. Take the worry that's nagging at you and say it over and over, silently, slowly. For example: "I'm afraid I'll be fired ... I'm afraid I'll be fired ..." Leahy claims that the boredom that comes from repetition will eventually replace your anxiety, and you won't feel overwhelmed anymore.
5. Don't Fight the Craziness. It's normal to have crazy thoughts, says Dr. Leahy. He had a client, a lawyer, who kept imagining she'd lose control and start screaming in court. Our minds are creative, he told her. Sometimes our little synapses make wacky connections, and a crazy thought results. It happens to everyone. Don't judge yourself. See your anxiety as though it were a curious object on a shelf, he says. And then move on.
6. Take Your Hand Off The Horn. Worriers constantly check the weather before a big event. If they make a stupid comment, they play it back over and over in their mind. And yes, in traffic, they honk their horn. What is, is. Some things just cannot be controlled, like rush hour. Leahy teaches his clients to surrender to the moment. It's a paradox, he says — the more you surrender to the moment, the more in control you actually feel.
7. Make Peace With Time. When you're a worrier, everything can feel like an emergency. And yet, every feeling of panic comes to an end. Next time you feel your anxiety building to a crisis, ask yourself: "How will I feel about this is a week? In a month?" If you allow your anxiety to pass ... poof!
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! AVOID MELTDOWNS
"Worry is as useless as a handle on a snowball." — Mitzi Chandler
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.