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Change Your Life, No Worries!

Get the best of your worries, so they don't get the best of you! Turn your negative thinking into positive thinking.

By Heather E. Schwartz, Albany, New York

Worried? It's no wonder. Watching TV, reading the paper, surfing the web and talking with friends, every day we're inundated with tens of thousands of situations that call for a reaction. Sometimes stressing out—over, say, rising gas prices or your parents' health—seems warranted. But sometimes it can get in the way, like it did with me last year.

"We all get anxious from time to time," says Bromwyn Helene, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in upstate New York. That's fine, even useful. But for some people, stress can spiral out of control. Each year, 19 million Americans ages 18 to 54 experience a diagnosed form of anxiety, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.  And some of us just worry far too much. Simply put, worry is negative thinking.

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You may recognize the symptoms. You can't relax or even sleep. Anxious feelings can linger long after the event that triggered them. Do you worry too much? "The division is between whether you're able to function or the anxiety is interfering with your life," Helene says.

I know if I had been reading this a few months ago, I'd have started worrying, This sounds like me. I'm doomed! Don't go that route yourself. Read on and you'll find there's plenty you can do to put worry in its place.

Anxiety never kept me from doing what I wanted to do. But I knew I was in trouble last year when I realized I was too worried to actually enjoy what I was doing. At work, that made sense. I didn't love my job. On weekends, though? Stress seemed to spring from nowhere. What if I'm too nervous to have a good time? I'd fret before dinner out with friends. It got to the point where I would worry about being too worried!

My gloomy predictions came true once or twice, and I took that as proof things would only get worse. My negative thinking was a big part of the problem, but I couldn't figure out how to stop. Over and over, I retraced my steps: At what point had worry taken over my thinking?

But sometimes it's impossible to find the source of your anxiety, according to Helene. You might even make connections that aren't really there to try and solve the mystery. (Hmm...kind of like the way I kept worrying my new, happy marriage was in trouble, though there was no evidence other than the fact that my anxious feelings reminded me of my first marriage, which ended in divorce.) "If you can find the source, good," Helene says. "If you can't, it's helpful to talk about some strategies for coping with and reducing your anxiety."

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I'd lived with worry all my life. Did I study hard enough for this exam? Will my car make it through another winter? Do I have enough money to pay the cashier at the grocery? I made a decision: I was tired of letting my anxiety run the show. I would do whatever it took (for the rest of my life, if necessary) to feel good again.

It turns out I was onto something. Stress affects different people in different ways. Some people get migraines and backaches; others tend toward worry. If you're one of them, you need to be aware of that tendency at all times, so you can recognize and handle the anxiety when it strikes again. And you have to have faith that a power greater than yourself is in charge and wants the best for you. Too much worry means I'm not trusting enough in that higher power.

Helene told me some anxiety-reducing strategies that have worked for her patients. I also did some research on my own. There's an added benefit to developing healthy mental habits. Each time you overcome worry and succeed in doing what you want in life, your confidence grows. You realize you can do it. And, as I've learned, really enjoy it, too!

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