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Ways of Reducing Worry

Taking Back Control From Your Worry

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Updated June 26, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Worry involves thinking about possible future problems, concerns, or outcomes. It often takes the form of "what if..." thinking and generally accompanies anxiety. Everyone worries from time to time; however, some people may experience severe worry and struggle to feel better. In particular, people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at risk for severe worry, meaning that it occurs constantly throughout the day and feels uncontrollable.

Feeling this way can have a major negative impact on a person's life, interfering with work, relationships, and leisure activities. Fortunately, there are healthy coping strategies that can be used to better manage worry. Let's take a look at a few.

Relaxation

More often than not, worry coincides with anxiety. Therefore, by finding ways to better manage your anxiety, you may notice that your worry also reduces. There are two basic relaxation exercises that can be particularly useful for reducing anxiety -- deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation (or PMR).

Though breathing is second nature, this is not the case for deep breathing -- most people do it correctly. Natural breathing occurs with your diaphragm (a large muscle in your abdomen). When you breathe in, your belly should expand and when you breathe out, your belly should fall. Overtime, many people "forget" how to breathe this way and instead lift their shoulders when breathing. This provides less room for the lungs to expand, resulting in short and shallow breaths which can increase susceptibility to anxiety.

As the name implies, deep breathing is focused on deepening and lengthening your breath by breathing from your abdomen instead of your shoulders. Breathing in this way will naturally counteract anxiety, bringing about a state of calm and relaxation.

Progressive muscle relaxation, meanwhile, focuses attention on your muscles. Many people carry their anxiety and stress as tension in their muscles. PMR is a relaxation exercise where a person alternates between tensing and relaxing difficult muscle groups throughout the body. The idea behind this relaxation exercise is that more complete relaxation of your muscles can be obtained by first tensing a muscle and then relaxing it (kind of like a pendulum). PMR can also be done in combination with deep breathing, bringing on even more relaxation.

Expressive Writing

When people worry, they can feel as though the mind is filled with too many thoughts. As a result, it can be difficult to work through all these thoughts, as well as the feelings that may be underlying these thoughts.

Expressive writing can be a good way of organizing your thoughts, as well as connecting certain emotions to your thoughts. In expressive writing, a person puts aside a certain period of time and just writes freely about what they are thinking and feeling. Overtime, it has been found that expressive writing can reduce symptoms of tension and anxiety, as well as increase awareness of thoughts and feelings.

Putting Aside Time to Worry

Worry can take up a tremendous amount of time, and it can greatly interfere with concentration and other activities that you may be engaged in. Therefore, some have suggested that it may be useful to put aside a set period of time during your day to worry.

To do this, first identify any worries that you may be experiencing (especially those that frequently re-occur) and write them down. Then, identify a free time during your day when you can sit down and revisit those worries. Make sure to find a time when you aren't feeling particularly stressed out (for example, setting aside a time to worry at work probably wouldn't be the best idea).

This exercise shows that worries don't have to control your life. It also shows that worries can be delayed. We don't have to give in to them as soon as they pop into our heads. This exercise can help reduce the extent with which worries interfere with activities during your day.

Mindfulness

Last, but definitely not least, mindfulness can be an excellent way of managing worry. Mindfulness has been around for ages; however, mental health professionals are beginning to recognize that mindfulness can have many benefits for people suffering from anxiety.

Mindfulness is a particular type of awareness. It is about being completely in touch with the present moment and being open to experiences as they come in a non-judgmental and non-evaluative way. There are a number of mindfulness exercises; however, the most useful for someone who experiences worry may be mindfulness of thoughts. Approaching your worries (as well as other feelings) in this way can reduce the extent with which you connect and latch on to your worries.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Worry is a part of being human. Therefore, there really is no way to completely remove worry from your life. However, there are things you can do to limit the impact worry has on your life.

If you struggle with worry, try out the exercises listed above and see which is most helpful for you. It may be that only one works or it could be that they all work. Practice each one and give it some time. Coping strategies such as the ones described above are going to be most useful when you have taken some time to practice them and make them into a habit. Make sure that you aside some time each day to practice these strategies.

Sources:

Borkovec, T.D., Alcaine, O.M., & Behar, E. (2004). Avoidance theory of worry and generalized anxiety disorder. In R.G. Heimberg, C.L., Turk, & D.S. Mennin (Eds.), Generalized anxiety disorders: Advances in research and practice (pp. 77-108). New York: Guilford Press.

Leahy, R.L. (2009). Anxiety free: Unravel your fears before they unravel you. Australia: Hay House, Inc.

Orsillo, S.M., & Roemer, L. (2011). The mindful way through anxiety: Break free from chronic worry and reclaim your life. New York: Guilford Press.

Pennebaker, J.W. (1990). Opening up: The healing power of confiding in others. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Tull, M.T., Hahn, K.S., Evans, S.D., Salters-Pedneault, K., & Gratz, K.L. (2011). Examining the role of emotional avoidance in the relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity and worry. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 40, 5-14.

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  6. Reducing Worry - Reducing Worry in PTSD

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