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Tip Day: Getting out of the Worry Whirlpool

Posted Jan 27 2011 11:52pm
On this past week's Sunday Smorgasbord, one of my readers asked me for hints on breaking free from that maelstrom of worries that so often overwhelms people with eating and/or anxiety disorders.  I'm not saying that I'm an expert on this, because I frequently find myself sucked in to my worries, which never results in anything productive.  Nonetheless, I'm getting better at surviving the worry storms, and here are some of the tricks that I use.

1. Breathe.  It's a classic.  Take a deep breath.  Or several.  Deep breathing is very calming in and of itself.  Besides just breathing, pay attention to your breath as it enters and leaves your body.  Feel your lungs expand.  Feel the tiny hairs on your upper lip ruffle as you exhale.  It's called mindfulness, and it helps bring me back to the present moment and the present problem.

2. Take a break.  It was one of my homework secrets in high school and college: I always started the frustrating work first.  Not just to get it out of the way, but also so that I could take a break and work on something else if and when I got too anxious and frustrated.  Often, walking away from my physics or linear algebra homework, doing something else, and coming back to it after I had calmed down and regrouped made things go so much smoother.  So if balancing your checkbook is causing you to freak out, put the calculator down, do something else, and come back to it.  You will think more clearly and find the task much easier to accomplish.

3. Prepare for the worst.  Yeah, I know, much of The Advice out there is to tell ourselves that our worries are exaggerated and look at them rationally.  Which is a good thing, but often I find it more helpful to just bite the bullet and prepare for the worst.  If the ultimate worry is that I'm going to go broke and end up on the streets, figure out a plan.  What savings do I have?  What resources can I call upon?  What are my other options job-wise?  I don't spend a lot of time on this, but just knowing that even if the worst does happen, I can handle it calms me right down.

4. Animal therapy.  My cat or another furry friend always makes me feel better immediately.  It's like I can exhale just a bit.  Besides, how can a soft, purring kitty not make someone feel better?

5. Distract yourself.  This is a little different from #2, although it can be used as part of the "do something else."  Sometimes what I need isn't another task because I'm too frantic to concentrate.  I need something more distracting and mindless.  For me, watching re-runs of TV shows (I love House) or movies is calming.  They're familiar, as I've probably seen them before, which is soothing in and of itself.  And they get my mind off of whatever I'm worrying about.

6. Talk about it.  This is not something I'm good at.  I hate talking about my worries because what's the point?  Often, no one can help me, and I feel like a burden--or at least a neurotic basketcase.  But even if someone can't do anything about what's got my panties in a knot, just saying it out loud helps.  And many times, my friends and family will have a different way of viewing what's going on that can help, too.

7. Better living through chemistry.  I have a prescription for lorazepam (Ativan) for when I'm freaking out, panicky, and nothing else has worked.  Or I'm so wound up that using a coping skill is just ludicrous.  I resisted for a long time because I was afraid that benzodiazepenes were addictive, and I didn't want to just pop a pill.  But even just knowing that I have the pills in reserve helps me get through bad situations because I know I have something to make it better.
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