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Worry Less: 10 Lessons From Cognitive Therapy

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  • Ruminate less and it will help you de-stress. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy offers lessons anyone can apply.
  • Prioritize your values. If you cut something out of your schedule, you'll have more space around the other things you do. You will feel less stressed and enjoy everything more. I've decided to cut back on hopscotching around the Internet to drive traffic to my blog.
  • Think of something pleasant you can recite whenever troubling thoughts plague you as you're trying to fall asleep. I like to list my friends. Not only does thinking of people I love fill me with warmth, but it helps me drift off, sometimes after only a few names. Getting enough sleep also helps keep daytime thoughts from straying to worries. If a new set of worries starts playing in my head when I wake up, or any time of day, I try to remember to "change the channel," do something else. As soon as I realize I'm lying in bed worrying, I jump up and tune into NPR.
  • Keep busy. One of my favorite distractions, other than writing, is word games. If I'm in the middle of a killer Scrabble contest, a swarm of locusts could arrive and I wouldn't notice.
  • Be aware that rumination and obsession are like drugs, in a bad way. They activate the pleasure center of the brain, so the more you obsess, the more you are drawn to obsess. It's an addiction. If you think about it that way, it can help you to realize what's happening and put the brakes on some of that worry.
  • Assign a time of day to worry. When I tell myself that instead of now, I'll worry about my aging dog at 6 o'clock, often the clock strikes 6 and I'm just not in the mood to worry. If you are worried about an upcoming event, accept it the way you accept a cold. You know it will be unpleasant, but you know it will pass and you'll feel well again.
  • Lower expectations when holidays or other high-intensity events draw nigh. Perfection actually equals imperfection. Usually when I lower my expectations, I'm pleasantly surprised.
  • Lighten up on details and share responsibility for decision-making. I'm not planning a wedding, but if I were, I'd want to remember this one!
  • Greet a worry when it arrives, then send it somewhere. For example, if you have a persistent worry about an upcoming trip, mentally say to it, "Oh you again, how do you do, now, get into the garbage bag." Then imagine that bag being hauled off. Studies show that if you simply push negative thoughts away without some acknowledgement, that will make them even more persistent. Try to imagine sending your worries each time they pop up into the back of a bus, where you are the driver and they are seated behind you. This puts you in control. (It also conjures up a picture of my travel anxiety sitting next to my bedbug fears, chattering and singing camp songs.) Another image is to put your woes into helium balloon and picture them sailing away. (Don't actually do this with real balloons, as they are bad for birds and other living things.)
  • Realize that it's not, say, an upcoming event that causes you to worry, it's your beliefs about what might happen at the event that creates your distress. See if you can modify your beliefs. For instance, when I feel blue that I don't get to see all three of my daughters together often enough, I need to shift my thoughts to how special is the one-on-one time we share. While I'm at it, I think about how grateful I am for any time with my kids, and gratitude has healing power.

Two helpful books you can return to again and again are The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns and Get out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steven C. Hayes.

For the lighter side of worry, visit my blog Confessions of a Worrywart

And my semi-weekly articles on Home Goes Strong range from Feng Shui to Packing Tips to Easy, Crowd-Pleasing Recipes.

I'd love to know how you manage your worried mind. Please let me hear from you in the comments box below.

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