Contrary to popular belief, worrying isn't necessarily negative—if it's done properly.
"Worry is like a mental fire drill. It helps you anticipate danger, identify risks and rehearse a plan before it happens," says Beverly Potter, PhD, author of a variety of books on self-improvement and productivity, including The Worrywart's Companion.
Worrying becomes a problem, however, when you get fixated on the worry, dwell on the imagined danger and allow this fearfulness to escalate into paralyzing anxiety.
The good news? You can change your thinking. To become what Dr. Potter calls a "smart worrier," instead of a worrywart, try practicing the following techniques when you begin to worry.
Many highly effective people are hard-wired to become problematic worriers. "They're conscientious, and they plan in advance," says Dr. Potter. "This kind of mental makeup sets the stage for worrywarting."
To become a smart worrier, realize you've triggered anxiety and learn to soothe yourself before your anxiety gets out of hand. To quell anxiety fast, Dr. Potter suggests breathing deeply. "Take deep, cleansing breaths slowly and steadily," she says.
Another way to control worry is to compartmentalize it by training yourself to worry only in one spot.
At home, your worry spot might be the basement. At the office, it could be a conference room.
The technique? "At first, when you worry, go to your designated worry spot. Then, gradually try to go to that spot less," says Dr. Potter.
Put your worries on paper when you're overwhelmed by the magnitude of a worrisome situation.
Even when nothing is resolved, lists help focus worries and make them finite. "The mere act of writing down concerns creates a safety zone between you and your thoughts so you don't feel so possessed by them," she says. Take your worry journal to your worry spot.
"Worrywarts tend to overreact and talk themselves into thinking they're facing a real crisis even when they're not," says Dr. Potter. "To function more effectively in difficult situations, smart worriers practice the fine art of underreacting through self-talk."
When you're rushed, for instance, calm yourself by saying: "I'm not in a hurry. I have plenty of time." When you're anxious, say: "This is just a little anxiety. It's no big deal. It's natural."
"Worrywarts imagine the worst-case scenario," says Dr. Potter. In the midst of a work project, they imagine missing the deadline, then losing their job, house and family, ultimately becoming homeless.
"Statistically, most things work out okay, so why not imagine a happy ending?" asks Dr. Potter. "Concentrating on a happy ending builds hope and creates the expectation that all will be well in the end. Hope keeps worry in its place."
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