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Wednesday, 2 October 2013

9 Scientifically-Backed Ways To Stop Worrying

Corrie ten Boom once said, "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its
sorrow. It empties today of its strength."
Indeed, numerous studies have shown that worry not only puts a strain
on our mental health, but on our physical health, too. While worry in
and of itself is not bad -- it spurs us into action, after all -- too much of it
can lead to anxiety, which can have a lasting impact on health and
happiness. For instance, research has shown that anxiety can take a toll
on sleep, tax your immune system, raise your risk of post-traumatic
stress disorder, and even affect your risk of dying from disease.
The problem with worrying is that it becomes a cycle of self-perpetuating
negative thoughts. In a new review, University of Surrey researchers
described worry as "a chain of thoughts and images that are affectively
negative and relatively uncontrollable."
So what's the best way to stop the cycle? We rounded up some research-
backed ways:

Set aside a designated "worry time." Instead of worrying all
day, every day, designate a 30-minute period of time where you can
think about your problems. Penn State researchers found in a 2011 study
that a four-step stimulus control program could help seriously stressed
people take control of their anxieties, LiveScience reported. Step one:
Identify the object of worry. Step two: Come up with a time and place to
think about said worry. Step three: If you catch yourself worrying at a
time other than your designated worry time, you must make a point to
think of something else. Step four: Use your "worry time" productively
by thinking of solutions to the worries.
Kick your online addiction.
All that time you spend perusing your Facebook newsfeed probably isn't
doing your mental health any favors. A recent study from Anxiety UK
showed that nearly half of people feel "worried or uncomfortable" being
away from email or Facebook. "These findings suggest that some may
need to re-establish control over the technology they use, rather than
being controlled by it,” Anxiety UK CEO Nicky Lidbetter said in a
statement. Need some ideas for things to do away from your computer
or cell phone? We've got you covered.
Be mindful. The most effective strategies to stop worrying and
rumination may be ones based in mindfulness, which involves
nonjudgmental awareness of present thoughts and emotions, as well as
cognitive behavioral therapy strategies, according to the University of
Surrey review of 19 studies. Particularly, the review noted that
"treatments in which participants are encouraged to change their
thinking style, or to disengage from emotional response to rumination
or worry," as well as "treatments which enable participants to adopt
more concrete and specific thinking or which cognitively restructure
thinking in a more positive and constructive way" seem especially
Accept the worry -- and then move on. Worrying about
worrying is a dangerous cycle to fall into. A 2005 study in the journal
Behaviour Research and Therapy showed that people who naturally try
to suppress their unwanted thoughts end up being more distressed by
said thoughts. Meanwhile, "those who are naturally more accepting of
their intrusive thoughts are less obsessional, have lower levels of
depression, and are less anxious," the University of Wisconsin-
Milwaukee researchers wrote. Therefore, people who get caught up in
worry when they try to force themselves to stop worrying may want to
try a different strategy -- acceptance.
Write your worries down.
Letting all your emotions out on paper before a big exam could help
decrease test-taking worry, according to a 2011 study in Science. "It
might be counterintuitive, but it's almost as if you empty the fears out
of your mind," study researcher Sian Beilock, an associate professor in
psychology at the University of Chicago, told U.S. News. "You reassess
that situation so that you're not as likely to worry about those situations
because you've slain that beast." While exams are no longer a threat to
many of us, Beilock noted that the approach could work for people facing
anxieties for other things.
Cut yourself some slack. Dr. Susan M. Love, a professor at the
David Geffen School of medicine at the University of California, Los
Angeles, told The New York Times that the perceived need to follow all
the rules when it comes to health can be a source of stress and worry in
itself. Love, who wrote the book "Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won't
Break Your Health" told The Times that at the end of the day, it's
impossible to have perfect health, and you're probably a lot healthier
than you realize. "Is the goal to live forever?” she said to The Times. “I
would contend it’s not. It’s really to live as long as you can with the best
quality of life you can. The problem was all of these women I kept
meeting who were scared to death if they didn’t eat a cup of blueberries
a day they would drop dead.”
Keep your hands busy. Engaging in activities that keep your
hands busy and mind distracted could help prevent flashbacks from
traumatic experiences, according to research from the Medical Research
Council in England. While the study didn't examine how this strategy
impacts everyday worry, the American Association for the Advancement
of Science's Bob Hirshon pointed out that "keeping your hands and mind
busy interferes with storing and encoding visual images."
Make time for meditation.
Taking some time to find some zen can really help anxiety in your brain
-- even brain scans say so. A study published earlier this year in the
journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience showed that
meditation training not only lower anxiety levels in people, but it also
had effects on the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal
cortex brain regions (the former region controls emotions and thinking,
the latter controls worrying).
Get your heart pumping. Exercise may be a predictable way to
beat stress, but it's only predictable because it's so effective. Research in
animals, for instance, shows that exercise can affect brain activity of
serotonin (a so-called "happy" brain chemical) as well as reduce the
effects of oxidative stress, The New York Times reported. And Well and
Good points out studies showing that exercise interventions can result
in lower anxiety levels than people who stay tied to the couch. “Several
studies have found the effects of aerobic exercise to be initially similar to
those of medication,” Jeff Dolgan, an exercise physiologist at Canyon
Ranch Hotel & Spa in Miami Beach, told Well and Good. “However, in the
long term, exercise seems to work better.”



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