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Train your brain to ward off worries

Tips to try

If you experience periods of anxiety and stress every once in awhile, you're human! Anxiety becomes a problem when it's part of your everyday life and interferes with what you want or need to do.

Unfortunately, many times anxiety is caused by things we can't even control. And, for the most part, you have no control over life’s weighty issues like crime, poverty, oppression, terrorism and world hunger. What you can control, however, are your thoughts, actions, associations and lifestyle.

Tips to control your anxiety

  • Learn your triggers

    Carefully note what sets off your anxiety and limit your exposure to it.

  • Cut yourself a break

    If you're feeling overwhelmed, be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling anxious. A certain amount of stress is unavoidable.

  • Get going

    Worry is undirected energy. Try channeling that energy into something positive and productive.

  • Once you spot it, stop it

    Avoid going to a place in your mind where worries consume you. Imagine a light switch turned to off or anything else that symbolizes that these types of thoughts are off limits.

  • Avoid worst-case scenarios

    Most of what we fear never comes to pass. When or if a crisis hits, options will often turn up to help you deal with it.

  • Develop supportive relationships

    Find positive, uplifting people. Your happiness is directly related to those who surround you.

  • Reset your mind with positive affirmations

    Keep motivational or spiritual literature close by, or repeat a phrase such as “Be at peace” to help resist the pattern.

  • Remember that worry is unproductive

    The world will not change because you worried or because you were unhappy. It’s OK to be cheerful in the face of adversity.

  • If you've got to worry, set limits

    Focus on lowering the intensity and length of worrying, rather than eliminating it completely. For example, give yourself permission to worry for just five minutes.

Three techniques that work

  1. Thought stopping

    With this technique, you consciously take control of your anxiety by simply being aware of how it affects you and stopping the energy drain and panic-provoking thoughts.

    • When you feel your brain going to that place, tell it to stop.
    • Redirect and engage your brain elsewhere. Choose something that will not allow your brain to wander. For example, balance your checkbook, read a book out loud, or listen to music and sing along — anything that will engage your brain in something else altogether.
  2. Rule of five

    If worry is consuming you, ask yourself, "What is the worst thing that can happen?" Then, write it down. Sometimes, just the process of writing it down will help you see how irrational it might be. If you don't feel as though the fear is unreasonable, continue by asking yourself:

    1. Is this still going to bother me in five minutes?
    2. Is this still going to bother me in five hours?
    3. Is this still going to bother me in five days?
    4. Is this still going to bother me in five weeks?
    5. Is this still going to bother me in five years? When you realize how short-lived your anxiety might be, perhaps you will be able to put it into perspective.
  3. Controlled breathing

    As you do this exercise, imagine yourself inhaling calm energy and exhaling your anxiety. Exhale for double the amount of time you inhale, until you feel relaxed:

    1. Inhale two seconds, exhale four seconds.
    2. Inhale three seconds, exhale six seconds.
    3. Inhale four seconds, exhale eight seconds.
    4. Inhale five seconds, exhale 10 seconds.

    Think of yourself as “resetting your thermostat” or anchoring yourself in calm waters.

Get the help you need

Everyday anxiety — that doesn't interfere with your daily responsibilities — is completely normal. But, if you are struggling to concentrate, have constant worries, restlessness or experience symptoms that could be classified as a panic attack, it's vital you seek help. If you have an anxiety disorder, it can be managed with psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and/or drugs called benzodiazepines, which suppress the activity of brain chemicals. Talk to your personal doctor about the best treatment for you.