May 12, 2006

Excessive Worrying is Toxic

"Fear, anxiety, and stress...are all components of worry. Bill Crawford, PhD, author of All Stressed Up and Nowhere to Go, defines worry as envisioning something bad that might happen in the future.

"There's a difference between 'awareness' and 'worry,'" says Dr. Crawford. He likens awareness to the red light on the car dashboard; no one is pleased to see the light go on, but you can appreciate the message, as it enables you to take action to handle or avert a problem. Contrast that with worry, which Dr. Crawford says involves agonizing over situations about which you have little control...

"Worry is nature's alarm system. It's sort of like blood pressure," he adds—you need some level to be alive and healthy. It's when the alarm goes off for no reason or the level stays too high for too long—what Dr. Hallowell calls "toxic worry"—that problems arise.

Chemical Reactions in the Body
Worry causes a chemical reaction in the body, triggering the release of stress hormones that prepare you to respond to a dangerous situation by fighting or running away. With worry, though, the dangers are often imagined rather than real. As a result, explains Dr. Crawford, "we have our body in this hyperactive mode, but we're not doing anything."

Not only have you wasted time and energy, you've also unleashed chemicals that can interfere with other body processes, such as the immune system, and actually hamper your ability to act effectively. "Virtually every system in the body is affected by toxic worry," Dr. Hallowell says. "It's very destructive."...

Crossing the Line
So how do you know when your worrying has crossed the line? "When it hurts," answers Dr. Hallowell. You need to look closely at the sources of your worry when it holds you back from doing what you want, from making decisions, or from living as fully as you'd like...

What Do I Do Now?
If you aren't suffering from an anxiety disorder but want to minimize your worry, Dr. Crawford suggests examining the degree to which you use worry—or fear—as a motivator. For instance, if you use worry to motivate yourself to perform your best at work, refocus on rewards instead of punishments; envision how great it will feel to get that promotion rather than how bad it will be if you don't.

Dr. Hallowell also has several concrete recommendations for banishing worry:

Never worry alone. Making contact with another person and sharing your concerns is often the best way to combat incessant worry.
Get the facts. "A lot of times, worry is based on lack of information or misinformation," he says. Simply gathering data can help you develop a plan of action or even decide you don't need to worry after all.
Make a plan of action. By making a plan, you assume control of the situation. "Worry loves a passive victim," he explains. "The more you put yourself in control and reduce your vulnerability, the less you'll feel toxic worry."

Physical factors such as getting enough sleep, eating properly, and exercising also make a big difference in the amount of worry you experience. When your body is run down, you're more susceptible to letting your mind get carried away. Prayer and meditation can also help in calming runaway thoughts, says Dr. Hallowell. If none of these methods is helpful, the next step is to consult with a professional..."

Read more in this Beliefnet article

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