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# Distinguish productive from unproductive worry. Ask ... Distinguish productive from unproductive...

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• How to Overcom

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eY Roernr L. Leauy

" . . . Since most worries never come true, worriers often are forced to admit, 'l can't recall what I was worried about."'

VERYONE SEEMS to worry, yet chronic woriers-those who worry all the time-wait a.lrnost l0 years to seek out psy- chotherapy; that is if they ever decide to go. Moreover, they have been hearing bad advice all the while: You have to think

more positively, they are told. You should believe in yourself. Why are you punishing yourself? Do you want to suffer? Just stop worrying. This is like saying to someone who is anorexic, "Why don't you have a pas- hy?" The chance that this advice will work is about zero.

So, what are the rules for being a worrier? o If something bad can happen, then it is your responsibility to worry about it. a Do not accept any uncertainty-you need to know for sure. o Treat all ofyour negative thoughts as ifthey are f,ue. o Anything bad that could happen is a reflection of who you are as a person. a Failure is unacceptable. o Get rid of any negative feelings immediately. o Tieat everything hke an emergency.

Now that you know the rules, you can wony every single day of your life about something that probably will never happen. Congratulations, you are on the royal road to misery.

Worriers believe that they need to worry in order to be prepzLred for- or to avoid- the bad things that are going to happen to them. There is a lot of excellent research on the nature of worry as well as how to get control of it. What follows are seven steps to conquer those worries:

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Distinguish productive from unproductive worry. Ask younelf, "What is the advantage that I hope to get in worrying?" Worriers believe that simply having a thought-"I might fail"-means rhar rhey should worry about it. They think that worry will prepare. morivate. and keep them from ever being surprised.

If I am going to fly from New York to Rome, productive worry in- volves action that I can Lake now. For instance, I can purchase my airline ticket and reserve a hotel room. Unproductive worry involves all the what-ifs that I cannot do anything about: What if my scheduled talk does not go well? What if I get lost in Rome?

Accept reality and commit to change. Research shows that worriers cannot tolerale uncenainty. treating it as if it was a sure negative. Ironi- cally. S5Va of the things ttrat worriers worry about turn out to have a pos- itive outcome. and even when he outcome is negative. 79Zo of the time worriers end up saying, 'T handled that better than I thought I would." Demanding certainty is hopeless. Instead, look for the advantages of having some uncertainty. These include noveltS suqprise, challenge, change, and growth. Otherwise, life is boring.

Along with accepting some reality and uncertainty, we know that wonlers try to avoid uncomfortable experiences. So, as therapists, we ask worriers to list all the things that they are avoiding-and then begin doing these things. The goal is "consfuctive discomfort'' and "success- ful imperfection." An individual has to be uncomfortable to grow. and change and success are purchased at the price of imperfection. These ideas can be quite empowering. Once someone realizes that he or she al- ready is uncomfofiable (since the individual in question is a worrier and probably a little depressed), that person at least can use discomforl to maKe pfogress.

Challenge your worried thinking. Worriers have thought-reatity fu- sion. The thought process goes something like this, "If I think I might get rejected, it will tum out to be true unless I worry about it and do every- thing to be sure it does not happen." Worries are like obsessions in this sense; worriers treat their thoughts like they erlready are facts. Typical thhking errors include mind reading (he thinks I am a loser), jumping to conclusions (I don't know something, therefore I will fail), emotional rea- soning ( feel nervous, so things will not work out), perfectionism Q need to be perfect to be confident), and discounting the positive (the fact that I have done well in the past is not a guaftrntee of anything). Worriers also have sudden-emergency ideas, such as slippery slope thinking (if this trend continues, things could go downhill in a real hurry) or trap door mentality (I could make a mistake and my whole life could fall apart).

In response, worriers should challenge and test out their thinking: What is the worst, best, and most likely outcome? What are all the things that I could do to deal with a real problem? Is there any evidence that things could tum out okay? Am I making the same incorrect predictions that I always do?

Look at the deeper threat. Personality plays a role in the problem of worrying. People differ from one another in what they worry about. Some are obsessed about money; others, health; and, still others, what society thinks of them. Cognitive therapy techniques help modifi' these concems. Is there any real advantage in thinking in such perfectionistic and demanding terms? What would be the upside in cutting yourself a little slack? How about treating yourself like uio-un being?"

'

Moreover, you can ask yourself what advice you would give a friend, or set up experiments where you do not ask for reassurance or act per- fectly, or you spend time alone (if you think you always need someone). What will happen if you do not get reassurance? Will it really make any difference? You also can practice writing assertive statements to the par- ent or friend who taught you to believe all these negative things about yourself. These "messages" do not have to be sent, but it can be helpful to hear yourself defending your right not to live up to the demanding and critical views of others.

Turn failure into opportunity. Worriers feel that failure is unaccept- able-and that everything can be viewed as a possible failure. If you go to a party and someone is not friendly, then you have failed. When I was in college, I had a friend who wrote a term paper for an economics course. It was a plan for an ovemight mailing service. His professor gave him a low grade. 'This is unrealistic. It will never work," the instructor

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