28/02/2013 10:48 GMT | Updated 29/04/2013 06:12 BST

Do You Worry All the Time? Try This Simple Technique to Feel Calmer and Less Stressed


Everyone worries from time to time, but some of us worry more than others. If you are prone to 'chronic worry', you may find yourself fretting about everything from day-to-day domestic issues to more serious concerns like your family being in danger, or your partner losing their job.

This kind of chronic worrying is known as 'generalised anxiety disorder', or GAD, which means that rather than focusing your anxiety on one particular thing - like your health, or interacting with groups of people - your anxiety is free-floating, attaching itself to one thing after another.

That's why it's easy to lose yourself in endless cycles of worry, because no sooner do you solve one problem than your worries attach themselves to the next potential threat or difficulty; then the next, and so on until your life has become completely dominated by worrying about things that might never happen. If you are a worrier, you might believe that it's important to worry in order to avoid potential crises: 'If I don't worry about the kids all the time, who will?' In families, this role is often - thought not exclusively - occupied by mothers, who express their natural protectiveness for the rest of the family by worrying about them a little too much.

But like other anxiety-related problems (such as public speaking anxiety, which I wrote about in my last post) chronic worry can make life miserable. Although it's perfectly natural to worry some of the time, about certain things, if you spend hours on end worrying your 'baseline' anxiety level will be high, causing all sorts of unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms such as tension headaches, back ache, insomnia, negative/'catastrophic' thoughts, impaired memory and concentration...

As with other anxiety-related problems, the most effective treatment is cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), which will teach you simple techniques like this one:

Take a worry break

If you are a chronic worrier, much of your worrying is probably unproductive. You might think endlessly about problems, but you probably don't end up with effective solutions to most of them. So if you are worrying about, say, your teenage son's rebellious behaviour, instead of lying there chewing it over at 2am, tell yourself firmly that you will take a 'worry break' the next day when you can think about it as much as you want.

First, find a 30-minute slot in your day and write Worry Break in your diary. Then follow two simple rules:

1) That in order to reward yourself with this break, you are not allowed to think about your troublesome son until then. If your mind does wander to that subject (as it surely will), tell yourself firmly 'I'm not going to think about this now, because I will focus exclusively on the problem tomorrow.

2) And during your worry break, your worrying has to be productive. This means that you have to come up with some solutions to your parenting problem, not just upset yourself about it. (You can download an excellent guide to problem-solving from the BBC site).

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