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Escape from the Worry Trap

Worry as Vigilance

Some people view worry as a form of vigilance, reasoning, for example, that if they dwell on the likelihood of their wallet being stolen during a vacation, the theft won't occur.

"Some people feel they can make a deal with fate," says Dr. Hallowell. "If they suffer enough, the worry will prevent the negative outcome. But if you don't tie worry to action, it doesn't do a thing except make you sick."

Sort your concerns into those you can influence and those you can't, and focus your energy on the former. Jot down a list of possible solutions, sift through them and work toward implementing the best options.

Abolish Your Anxiety
"Take a good guess at what the best course of action is, knowing all along that you might make a mistake," advises clinical psychologist Paul A. Hauck, Ph.D., author of Overcoming Worry and Fear.

"And consider, would it be really terrible if you made a mistake? In most cases the world won't end if you do."

Talk to Someone
"Get it out. Talk to a friend, talk to a colleague, talk to your dog," advises Dr. Hallowell. "This is the number one tool of worry control because it's so simple and so effective."

To avoid overloading others with your angst, ask a pal for 10 minutes of vent time, then offer your ear to her.

Devote a set amount of time — say, 10 to 20 minutes a day — to your potential troubles.

Let your imagination run as wild as it can during this period. Afterward, if an upsetting thought arises, file it away for the next day's session.

Too difficult? Start by working to postpone worries for a few minutes at a time.

Imagine the Chances
Pondering how you'd feel and what you'd do if the worst did happen may help you see that the chances it will happen are slight and that you can handle lesser events.

Judy Bosniadis, a real estate agent in Chapel Hill, NC, uses this strategy to relieve her recurring anxiety that she'll be late for morning meetings in the office.

"The big worry is that the alarm clock won't go off, I'll be late for the meeting and everyone will be upset," she says. "I can really toss and turn over this. So what I do is take each fear and work through it until I've diluted it."

For example, Bosniadis tells herself that not only will the alarm most likely go off on schedule, but a late arrival at the meeting would cause little stir, and it's highly unlikely that she'd be disciplined for tardiness anyway.

"By the time I've gone through all the possibilities, I'm okay," she says.

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