A Modern Cure for an old problem

In 1944, Dale Carnegie published a book called ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’, which became the indispensable hand book for a generation of anxious citizens who needed some concrete proof that their saga of worry and anxiety was indeed special. Carnegie urged a rational and disciplined approach to attaining peace of mind. But psychologists have since learned that habitual fretting and worrying over every little thing (also known as anxiety syndrome) is essentially an irrational behavioral pattern that can be corrected and modified to a great extent.

To come back to the present, Madame M, who is a computer programmer in a multi-national company knows all about worry since it has been her companion for years. Even as a child, while most of her friends worried about getting through in exams, M chewed her finger nails to the bone agonising not only about whether she would pass, but also what would happen afterwards that is next year ! Would her new classmates make fun of her missing tooth? Would there be many more dates to cram in history? Would she be required to take part in class debates? M no doubt loved debates but had an unconquerable fear of the stage and facing crowds, so she preferred to keep to the sidelines even when there was an opportunity to give expression to her talent. It was the same at home, M only looked at the neighboring dogs and pups longingly although she would have loved to have one of her own and play with it. She was afraid of dogs, that they may bite her or pounce on her since her mother cautioned her all the time to keep away from them.

So, M's life was ridden by some new fear or fearsome possibility, a constant pin prick on her brain that never let her relax and let go !Later in college it only got worse, where she had to rehearse her conversations before going to attend college parties so she wouldn’t blurt out something stupid or foolish. In fact she failed to see any of her positive traits - attractive, well mannered, humorous, very neat and tidy in her dealings but a personal wreck who was, forever worrying and always anxious. This trait also prevented her from doing things that she liked and forming close relationships. Worry and anxiety was a real joy robber in her case.

Worry and anxiety

No doubt we all have moments when we worry over some matter or the other, in fact everybody worries and the good thing is that fretting and worrying helps us anticipate problems and plan solutions. As humans evolved the ability to speculate about danger also became a big advantage. The irony is that today when by any objective measure we have less to fear than ever, too many of us are caught in a cycle of pointless hand wringing. This kind of anxiety does not help us negotiate the future, because worry obscures everyday joys of our life and also successfully tarnishes the present!

Indeed, at its most intense, worry qualifies as an emotional disturbance called generalized anxiety disorder ( GAD) that afflicts one is 20 adults at some point in their lives, and two thirds of them women. Madame G’s experience is typical of people diagnosed with this problem- fear lurking in the dark corners of the mind, making vague unseen threats that somehow never seem to materialize. Usually accompanied by such symptoms as sleeplessness, fatigue, and muscle pain, GAD can also segue into depression, hypochondria or even obsessive- compulsive disorder.

Finding A Way Out Of Misery!

All that sounds like something to worry about, but actually there is also an upside to this issue. Psychologists are figuring out how anxiety worms its way into the hearts and how best to stop it. According to them anyone who frets too much can find lessons in what they have discovered and a way out of their misery. The tendency to worry and get anxious starts early in life and according to researchers 30 percent is inherited! And even if you were not born with a particularly nervous, nervous system, certain experiences in childhood and adolescence can transform you. Sometimes the trigger is the catastrophic event. It has been known that many people who experienced the great depression or the holocaust never shook their fear of future uncertainties.

Similarly a sudden loss or injury of a loved one can also darken a person’s view. According to studies, over protective and demanding parents play a role too. Many parents are perpetually laying down strict rules and regulations instead of helping the child develop his or her own instinct for what is actually worth fearing. But there is a difference between warning a child never to pet a strange dog, for instance and teaching him or her to approach one with slow movements. Kids who have been taught to fear develop the sense that they have no control over their world and must always remain worried and wary. In fact we can see that worries were thrust too soon into adult roles, since as kids many were responsible for the safety of their siblings or even their parents. Out of those who have GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), close to two-thirds qualify as over- nurturers, which is a far higher rate than can be seen in general population.

The repercussions can be serious since the efforts made by over anxious people to protect their loved ones from imagined threats can alienate them from the very people who they are trying to shelter. In spite of being over sensitive to others needs as adults such people often develop many interpersonal problems. Imagine you are a parent who is nervous because your teenage daughter has just learnt to drive. Every time she goes out with the car, you keep calling her on her mobile and then stand near the window or the main door until she gets home. A non worrier or an average person would conclude that after the first few times, nothing bad is likely to happen, so she will carry on with her own duties instead of standing watch. But the worrier tends to think that her daughter is returning home safely because she keeps vigil and this sort of an attitude can drive the daughter crazy after a while. This kind of behavior could be justified obviously, if the fears proved valid which rarely happens.

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5 Top Stressors That Keep You Up at Night?

Work Pressures

It can be even a small thing like some minor argument with a colleague or being reprimanded by a section head or a constant worry about your own performance- whether it is up to the mark or not.Also worries like you are about to be passed over for a promotion or a project will fail or worse you might be laid off!

Antidote – Worry as we all know is usually based not on fact but more on negative assumptions, so what you need is a reality check. The best thing to do when you are not sure about your promotion or any other thing relating to your career and job is to approach your boss or a sympathetic colleague and ask for his/her frank opinion about the situation.

You may get reassured and also are able to see it from another person’s point of view which may be more realistic and balanced not be as bad as you think. It is always better to take things head on and do something about them instead of wasting your precious time worrying unnecessarily. Set a strategy and even if your plan fails, your worry factor would have come down since you were mentally engaged otherwise. For example : what you would do if you were fired from your job, you will see other options other than landing on the streets and this second line of defense stops you from needlessly forecasting disaster for yourself.

Your Health

The possible concerns and worries would be that you have some incurable ailment since you have been feeling weak and a little under the weather lately, so you may not make it through next week’s procedure. The pain in your back and knees would never go away and may become chronic and your husband’s test results will show that he has cancer or something as bad!

Antidote - According to psychologists, there are two types of worriers ‘Monitors’ ( who over think about their health)and ‘Blunters’ ( those who avoid the topic entirely). If you are a monitor, turn your vigilance toward finding the best possible care and repeatedly remind yourself that you are in good hands and if you are a blunter it is good to tell yourself that the ailment is likely to be treatable and it helps that you be attentive about your health. It is a matter of diverting your mind towards something more positive and logical and have a plan of action that will produce some results.

Your Personal Conflicts

At work place a colleague does not work but makes sure that he or she claims all the credit or your mother in law , who is dominating announces that she is coming to your place for a month or You have the task of confronting a neighbor whose dog is constantly barking at night and also messing up your garden.

Antidote - Since these are all social issues, the solution must be found through exchange with others. Talking with others who have similar problems as yourself at work place or sharing and asking opinion of an experienced and wise elderly person can help you deal with the issue. Similarly when it is a neighborhood issue, it must be bothering others as well, so, the best solution is to talk to others and come to a mutually agreed decision to tackle the problem. Getting out of yourself immediately increases your sense of control and reduces your feeling of vulnerability.

 Your Children

You may worry that your five year old will never get adjusted at school or will not be able to cope with the studies. Your 18 year old is out late and will get into some kind of trouble and you dont know what to do? Your 27 year daughter is dating the wrong guy without your knowledge and will probably even marry him.

Antidote – Sometimes over anxious parents can take steps like talk to teachers about their own worries regarding their child’s performance at school and take the necessary steps, however, when and if things are beyond your control you can do little, be thankful that your frame of mind is under your control and keep it sane. According to psychologists, when a crisis arises, one must decide whether to act or postpone the action or even dismiss the concern as unwarranted and then stick to your decision.

Suppose your daughter is due home at midnight, decide not to get worried and take action only when it is 12.15 or after and call her to see if she is alright. Make sure that you use positive language instead of passing on your anxiety and worries to her and even may be making her angry. The idea is to think - my daughter may be making a mistake but for the most parts she is doing well and, avoid thoughts like ‘I have to be a perfect mother/father since it is not always possible to know what is perfect in a given situation.

Your Finances

You will never be able to pay your credit card bills, or you will run out of money during retirement. You will not be able to cope with the added expenditure during later years when children need to be sent for higher studies. In fact, financial worries can be endless.

Antidote - Eventually we all may have to sit down with a certified accountant to sort out our financial issues. However, you first need to ask yourself, why you haven’t already taken logical, grown up steps like paying off your debts in time, maximizing your investment plans through bonds that get tax rebates and other decisions that help in securing your financial future. Once you are ready, start with subtle trimming – remember the more money, invested sooner, the more valuable and secure your future is going to be !

According to psychologists, childhood experiences of loss and shame often block adults from handling their finances and once they realize from where those behavior comes from it is easier to break it rather than sit and worry.

‘Be prepared for the real world ‘ says the Therapist

Be absolutely frank, look into yourself and answer these questions – Do worries pop into mind and take over your thinking? Do others comment on how much you worry over every little thing? Do you always worry what other people think of you? Do you feel that it is dangerous to be confident since it is like tempting fate? Do you develop physical symptoms in response to stress? And, do you tend to dismiss as superficial, those people who are cheerful and optimistic? The most intriguing recent finding suggests that anxiety does not prepare people for the real world so much as it insulates them from lessons learnt. When counselors pointed out to the GAD patients, that what they feared didn't come true, it only reinforced their belief that their worry was working! Most adults carry on their daily business in a state of low physical alertness that increases only when they confront with something that is out of the ordinary.

If you are prone to fretting and worrying you can constantly be in a state where you are keeping alert for some imagined trouble, like a soldier peering from a trench into the darkness during war time. And, if bullets actually start flying, your frayed nerves may barely splutter. This is because over anxiety and worry results in a kind of physical rigidity, preventing the body from reacting flexibly to stresses in the environment. As a result, the brain may lose sight of what to take seriously and over a period of time may get caught in an endless loop of troubling thoughts that definitely not helpful.

For our own Madame G the last straw came the day she and a friend set out on a hike last May. When her friend saw the amount of luggage G planned to take on the hike she almost collapsed. G had thought of every single thing – pots and pans to cook food in, tins of food in case they saw no village or town on their way, thick sweater in case the nights turned cold (at the height of Indian summer?), a rain coat in case there were unexpected showers, every kind of medication possible, just in case...When the friend asked her, how she was planning to carry all that since they were going hiking? That was when G stopped and had second thoughts - how ridiculous, unreasonable and foolish she had been. G decided to go for counseling which was a step in the right direction.

Today’s treatments tend to focus on practical solutions rather than exorcise childhood memories as it was done in the 60’s. According to psychologists it is always possible to retrain your brain. Every time a pointless misgiving intrudes, snap yourself to refocus your attention and this works every time and all the time. Sometimes better habits have to be developed the hard way. Also, don’t avoid fear, instead confront it! Learn how to actively cope with fate by taking relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and regular exercise and long walks. Sometimes, a short trip or a change of scenery can lighten you up. Most helpful of all is sharing with friends and family.

90 percent of all obsessions are minor, but that still didn't stop the diehard worriers from agonising over them. According to psychologists, if you focus on particular worries, you are just putting out bush fires, which doesn’t really help in the long run. It is the habit that has to change. Use the law of averages to outlaw your worries and co operate with the inevitable.

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Concluding G’s saga of stress and anxiety

The psychotherapist told G to write down all her fears in detail on index cards or in a journal. Apparently, as she wrote more and more, the more she began to feel bored with her thoughts of disaster. When she began reading them she felt they seemed so silly. The therapist also told G to wear a rubber band on her wrist and snap herself whenever her thoughts slipped toward a worry. These tricks may seem absurd, but they do work well.

According to reports, scans of Obsessive – Compulsive patients who had used these methods to break their runaway anxieties showed changes in the brain mappings similar to those brought about by drug therapy. In the meantime, after several months, Madame G became adept at shepherding her attention away from minor concerns. It was also saddening for her to realise that this was not something that she could get over in a few weeks. But with progress each week, even in bits and pieces, she began to see how life was changing for the better. The best part was that she made many friends at the therapist’s clinic and this interaction with each other did a lot to help them get over their worries and anxieties.

Today Madame G is a happier person in a more secure world of her own imagination. She is of course travelling light, not only in the thoughts that she carries in her brain, but also in the things she carries in her backpack. She is also learning to enjoy her hiking without carrying any mental burden. She is also much more interactive with colleagues and friends and finds life much more fun. Her only regret today is, thinking about all the fun she missed out on by worrying and agonising for years.

Finally Madame G has now come to terms with her own self and drawn the wise conclusion that Let the pat bury its dead. What is done is done, now it is time to move on in life.

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