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 Learning to be: Worry-free  
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by . View all columns in series
While reaching a state of being absolutely worry-free seems just about impossible, reducing worries to a manageable level is well within your grasp.

If you're convinced you can’t change - "once a worrier, always a worrier," you just might be surprised. What I'm about to discuss is a simple 7 step approach that has the potential to progressively help you build peace of mind.

Let's begin by exploring the concept of worrying. According to Webster, worry refers to "tormenting oneself with, or suffering from disturbing thoughts." The definition is simple to understand and even easier to place into a personal context. After all, we’ve been there before. It's a well-established fact that life is stressful at times - more so for some than others. Yet while an appropriate dose of healthy concern serves to protect us, worrying sometimes evolves into an overwhelming controlling factor in our lives.

An example of healthy concern is the fear generated by the possibility of your toddler running into the street. Rational responses to such a threat include appropriate supervision or ensuring your child plays in a fenced yard. Healthy concern, however, is likely to evolve into worry when reasonable measures are not taken and the threat of danger persists.

Unfortunately, the basis for transforming healthy concern into worry is not always rational or predictable. For many people, worrying is an automatic response to practically anything that has even the most remote potential to negatively affect us or the ones we love. Worrying can also be one’s knee-jerk reaction to change.

And since one of the few things we can count on is life is CHANGE, one has the opportunity to worry about practically anything. Typical worries are often based upon appearances, being on time, doing what others expect, growing older, health/illness, loved-ones, money, responsibilities, success, taxes, weather, work, etc. The problem is there are too many etceteras!

As a result, some people are virtually consumed by worry.

Rather than attempting to classify every potential worry that exists, let’s begin with the basic assumption that we're all worried about something.

In order to learn to reduce or eliminate a particular worry, let’s take a few moments to consider the following statement voiced by a desperate young woman: "I won’t live past 50 - I know I’m going to die of cancer."

No doubt she's worried - anxious, upset and panicky. To her it's obvious her fate is sealed.

So using this example, let’s proceed in a stepwise manner with our approach.

Step 1. Begin by uncovering and writing down the underlying belief. Behind every worry is a belief. When asked for hers, it was crystal clear. She immediately stated, "my mother and grandmother died of breast cancer ... I'm next in line."

Step 2. Ask yourself the question, "Is my belief trueæ is it based on fact?" When confronted with that question, she initially felt it was. Yet after a few moments it became apparent that there might be other factors that cause cancer in families. Soon she realized that just because her mother and grandmother had cancer, it wasn't a certainty that she’d die from it as well.

Step 3. Ask yourself the question, "Is my belief serving me well?" The woman's answer was obvious. Her underlying belief was nothing short of destructive.

Step 4. Ask yourself the question, "Should I accept my belief, or create a healthier one?" The rationale for this step is based upon one's answers to the questions presented in Steps 2 and 3. If you answered "no," to both, proceed to Step 5.

Step 5. Create a healthy belief and write it down. For our subject, it was time to create a healthy yet realistic belief. After pondering the issue for a few moments, she opened her journal and wrote, "I have the potential to remain healthy and prevent the development of breast cancer with proper diet, exercise, taking better care of myself, performing self breast exams and scheduling yearly mammograms." Please note: this is when a shift in thinking must occur.

Step 6. Test your new belief. Ask the previous questions, "Is my new belief based on fact, and is it serving me well?" After reading her new belief a few times, closing her eyes and contemplating its meaning, our young woman breathed a sigh of relief. She answered "yes" to both questions. Her new belief made a great deal of sense and it seemed to relieve her anxiety - at least for the moment.

Step 7. Each time the worry surfaces, immediately reread your new belief. This is where the real commitment is needed. Frankly there's more to eradicating worry than simply creating new beliefs. Practice is essential. Carry a notebook or journal, and reread your new belief whenever you begin to worry about the issue. Reviewing your new belief must take place precisely at the time when your worry is "hot." That evening, the next morning, or later in the week simply will not work!

Remember, be gentle with yourself, yet remain focused. Work on only a few worries at a time. Your process is as important as the end result. You might be asking yourself how you will know if this approach is working. The answer is straight-forward. When you stop reaching for your journal, your new belief is taking hold - Mind Over Matter!

© 2000 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

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 About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a......moreBarry Bittman MD
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