Friday, February 26, 2010

On learning to worry

By R. Scott Benson, M.D.

Mardi Gras is a big celebration in my town and after the parades and the parties everyone picks up the idea of Lent and sacrifice. The best one I heard was a friend who decided to give up worrying for Lent. A good choice.

Psychiatrists have long recognized the toxic effects of excessive worry but too often pick up the mantra – “don’t worry”. Good advice, but usually it’s not enough. Research in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for obsessive compulsive disorder sent me in a different direction. Engage your worries! Give them the attention they demand! With a little discipline.

I instruct my patients –

1. Make a list of your worries. Watch for duplicates. Worries are like that. They change a little to try and sneak back into your thinking.

2. Set aside time twice a day to get out your “worry list” and read through it. Try for once in the morning, and again in the late afternoon. Think English tea time. Give each worry the time it deserves. Pay special attention to any that you can do something about today.

3. If a new worry comes up you can add it to the list. This is especially useful for those late night worries that make it hard to fall asleep.

4. If worries try to get on your mind outside of your “worry time” gently remind that worry that you already have worried about it, and it will have to wait until the next worry time.

Worriers believe that they worry about everything, all of the time. Putting order to their worries helps them reframe the problem and put it in a correct perspective.

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