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Women's Health

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Escape from the Worry Trap

Worry Is Healthy continued...

As psychologist Gary Emery, Ph.D., director of the Los Angeles Center for Cognitive Therapy, puts it, worry is often about "trying to solve something that's not solvable at the moment. It gives people the illusion that they're doing something. But as the old Italian proverb says, 'A cartload of worry won't pay an ounce of debt.'"

Not only can worry leave us spinning our wheels, it also can depress us, poison our relationships and sap us of energy and the joy of living as we wrestle with relentless "what ifs."

Carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders can also make us physically sick, with ailments such as back pain, digestive disorders, rashes and recurring headaches. Research from the University of Kentucky in Lexington suggests that frequent fretting may even weaken the immune system.

"Chronic, persistent worry is just as dangerous for your health as high blood pressure," says Dr. Hallowell. "It's bad for virtually every system of the body."

But the good news, he adds, is that worry is definitely controllable. Ready to tame it? Try these techniques from the experts.

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."

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