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Take worries head-on

It can take a toll on your health and is a total waste of time, says Dr Jitendra Nagpal

education Updated: Feb 17, 2010 09:12 IST
Dr Jitendra Nagpal

Men are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take of them
- Epictetus

Everyone experiences anxiety and worry as a normal reaction to day-to-day events. Anxiety is characterised by physical responses of arousal and activation.
We all have the tendency to overreact or hold on to negative feelings and feel immobilised by trivial matters. Interestingly, these feelings have a better chance of becoming stronger if we have too much time on our hands. Worrying is also a sign that we are focusing more on the problem than the solution. But one must remember that worrying does not solve anything. Instead, it leads to various physical and mental health problems.

Usually sometimes, we fret unnecessarily about something which we fear might happen in the future – and feel like fools when it doesn't. There are time when we resort to abusing alcohol, tobacco or drugs as a means of escape from our worries even though we are aware that this does not provide any resolution for whatever it is that we are worried about.

For most people, manageable levels of anxiety are normal in situations such as starting a new job, meeting new people or writing an important examination.

For some people, however, worrying becomes the primary response. Their feelings then are intense and disproportionate to the circumstances, and make normal functioning impossible.

If you are a confirmed worrier and anxiety is taking a toll on your health, consider some lifestyle changes. The first step in changing your lifestyle and reducing stress is to examine your daily patterns and habits. You can actively choose habits that enhance a sense of control and reduce feelings of tension and anxiety.

You can also go in for stress-reducing relaxation therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy, or medication. For example, adaptive techniques for dealing with conflict or confrontation can promote a sense of control. Relaxation therapies help in the acquisition of skills that allow patients to feel relaxed.

Cognitive behavioural therapy deals with patterns of anxious thinking and behaviour through relaxation techniques. It also seeks to modify distorted patterns of catastrophic thinking to break the cycle of anxious behaviour. The patient is encouraged to develop an adaptive approach to anxiety-provoking situations.

Though medication is quite effective, it is best used for a very short time and only for well-evaluated cases.

You can also make a list of how worry affects you personally. This will help you become aware of the adverse effects of worrying and work on eliminating the most disruptive ones first.

Let’s consider some strategies to tackle anxiety:
Accept uncertainty: Uncertainty is an unpleasant and distressing feeling that can interfere with daily life. However, it is also a fact of life that we can’t possibly get to know all the results of our endeavours, though we can continue to work at them.

Minimise the distress signals: When you start to feel stress, focus on things you are sure of. Maintaining a routine of going to work or eating meals at normal times can provide the building blocks of basic surety. You could also turn to your support structure of friends or family, or find constructive distractions like music, art.

Be nice to yourself: Treat yourself to something nice (and healthy). Look after yourself, especially when you are going through a difficult time. .

Talk to someone often: Conversation helps alleviate worry. Most people feel worse it they isolate themselves.

Turn your mind to something else: Distraction is a very useful strategy, but only if it is not the only one you use. You will have to confront the problem, but you can choose your time.

Take the pressure off yourself: Constant worrying can deplete your resources. Understand that this is not the time to take on more commitments. Get as much sleep as you can and get enough exercise to maintain your strength and stamina.

To put things in perspective, you can ask yourself “how crucial is the thing that I am worrying about?” Finally though, action is the best antidote to excessive worry. If you’re busy working on the problem that is bothering you, you won’t have the time to worry.

The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at hthorizons@hindustantimes.com, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’