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Learning Not to Worry?

I sometimes worry myself into a tizzy. I begin to think that something is wrong with me or that something awful will happen. I try not to think of these things so I don’t manifest them into being. This just creates more worry. How can I break this cycle?

Answer (Published 7/23/2007)

Worrying is a common problem. It can make you miserable and can actually take a toll on your health. Some research has suggested that chronic elevation of stress hormones prompted by worry can damage areas of the brain and that worrying may reduce immunity, making you more susceptible to infection. I don’t mean to give you more to worry about. Not all worrying is bad – it can motivate you to plan ahead or take action when you’re up against a real problem.

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The kind of non-productive worrying you describe can become chronic and escalate into generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is characterized by physical symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, trembling, restlessness, sweating, abdominal upsets, dizziness and irritability.

My first recommendation to address your worrying habit is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy that can help you recognize the distorted thinking patterns that can lead to worry and teach you to address them with healthy coping skills. CBT works quickly – a great advantage. According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, the average number of sessions for all types of problems is only 16. To find a CBT therapist in your area, go to www.nacbt.org and click on "referrals."

You can also try these approaches, all of which can help you break the worrying habit and relieve the tension that accompanies worrying:

  • Breathing exercises. Try my relaxing breath, using instructions on my Web site, www.drweil.com, to relieve tension.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants, all of which can exacerbate tension.
  • Exercise regularly: This can lower stress hormones and increase production of brain chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins that positively affect mood.
  • Address your fears: When you worry about things you can do something about, take action.
  • Put your worries on paper. This can show you that your fears are exaggerated or unrealistic.
  • Try meditation. This can lead to long term reductions in anxiety among those with anxiety disorders. You might consider reading "Coming to Our Senses," by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., or get my audio CD with Dr. Zinn, "Breathing: The Masterkey to Self Healing/Meditation for Optimum Health".
  • Take a good multivitamin with B-complex and an omega-3 (fish oil) supplement: the B vitamins in the multi can help balance your mood; magnesium helps relax muscles, and a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with increased anxiety and depression. Take one to three grams of fish oil daily.
  • Try guided imagery, hypnotherapy and acupuncture: All three can help lessen anxiety.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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