The Sky Is Falling

By Marilynn Preston

December 21, 2018 5 min read

Are you worried about how much you worry? Bravo.

Uncontrolled anxiety is a giant obstacle to personal happiness. No surprise. Worry causes stress, and stress saps our strength, disturbs our sleep, fries our brain and constantly undermines our best efforts to stay healthy, relaxed and optimistic.

And yet there's so much to worry about these days. Is Alexa really recording everything I say? Why is our air more foul, our food and water more toxic? What do we do when all our online 24/7 connectivity only increases people's loneliness and isolation?

Of course, my list of worries will be different from your list, but we all share a need to deal with our anxiety in clever and effective ways.

That's why I want to offer some proven coping strategies recommended by psychologist Robert L. Leahy, the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, an author and editor of 26 books, including "Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before They Unravel You."

Some sound truly weird, and those are some of my favorites. Dr. Leahy has seen these methods work wonders. His blog on psychologytoday.com is a constant source of simple and powerful methods for dealing with your worries:

--TURN YOUR ANXIETY INTO A MOVIE. One creative way to let go of a worry is to disconnect yourself from it, Dr. Leahy says. Imagine your anxiety, your fear, presented to you as a film or a theater piece. You're in the audience. You're listening to the guy in the goofy hat sing and dance about your overdrawn bank account or your underwhelming relationship.

He's acting out your worries, all right, but you're detached. You are the witness. And that trick literally takes the drama out of it. From that calm, detached place, you're able to take more effective action.

--SET ASIDE WORRY TIME. Worries show up, constantly and unannounced. You're washing your dishes, and BAM! You begin to panic about paying off your student loans. You're taking a walk -- a wise and wonderful thing to do -- and the whole time, you're worrying about all the things you should be doing instead -- a very silly thing to do.

Here's Leahy's suggestion: Set aside a specific time every day to worry about your worries. Pick, say, 6 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 6 p.m. rolls around, many of your worries will seem too silly to deal with, and you'll have spent most of the day worry-free.

--BREATHE IT OUT. The mind attaches to the negative. Know that and be ready. Next time you feel tense, notice your breath. You're probably holding it. Ask yourself: Where is my breath now? Where is my attention? Link them by listening to your inhalations and exhalations, an easy and ancient strategy for calming your nerves. Breathe in, breathe out, consciously. When anxiety knocks -- and it will -- answer it by bringing your attention back to your breath. No harm doing this 10 times a day if you need to.

--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. Notice it, but don't react to it in negative ways.

--TAKE YOUR HAND OFF THE HORN. When you make a stupid comment, do you play it back over and over? Stuck in heavy traffic, is that you blasting your horn? What is, is, Leahy points out. Some things just cannot be controlled ... like rush hour. He teaches his clients to surrender to the moment. It's a paradox: The more you surrender to the moment, the more in control you actually feel.

--LET IT PASS. 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?" So why not drop it now?

ENERGY EXPRESS-O! AVOID MELTDOWNS.

"Worry is as useless as a handle on a snowball." -- Mitzi Chandler

Marilynn Preston's weekly column, "Energy Express," can be found at creators.com.

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