Worry is the most common form of suffering in America. We all worry every day, it’s inevitable — but we don’t all know that it’s possible to shift from negative worry states to a more positive frame of mind. In Dr. Martin Rossman’s book, The Worry Solution, he shares with us his program based on cutting-edge research and proven clinical techniques that will help us enhance our problem-solving skills and use our worries to help us rather than hinder us.
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This excerpt from The Worry Solution offers advices on living a life free from unnecessary stress.
Everybody worries sometimes, and many of us worry all the time. Worry helps us survive. It helps us avoid danger, or plan how best to respond to it. Humans alone are blessed (and cursed) with the ability to imagine and predict the future, which has made us both the most successful animal on earth and also the most troubled. The price we pay for being able to think about the future is to know that we are mortal, and to know that we are vulnerable. Homo sapiens, the “one who knows,” could just as accurately be called the “one who worries.”
Our imagination lets us turn a problem over and over in our minds, seeking the perspective that will let us resolve the situation. To worry is a bit like untangling a big ball of yarn. You find a little give here and a little loosening there, then you get stuck, so you turn it over and find a bit of room to move on the other side. If you keep at it, you will usually get it straightened out. Sometimes our most tangled life problems can also be resolved through a similar kind of worrying process.
Solving problems is the positive, healthy function of worry, but worry can easily turn into a bad habit of endless rumination about frightening, threatening, or simply annoying matters that ultimately cannot be solved. This kind of unskillful worrying can become a self-defeating form of self-suggestion that creates or amplifies anxiety and stress where none really needs to be.
If you had a prefrontal lobotomy, you wouldn’t have much worry. A lobotomy is an extreme neurosurgical answer to mental illness, one that flowered in the early twentieth century, when other treatments for serious mental illness included insulin shock, shock therapy with cold wet blankets, and inducing malaria in patients. All of these were crude attempts to relieve the suffering of psychosis by “rebooting” brains gone wrong.
Neurosurgeons of the day performed lobotomies by driving an ice pick through the inner corner of the eye socket and waving it back and forth to destroy connections between the thinking and feeling parts of the brain. This grisly procedure was not infrequently performed in the patient’s home, on the kitchen table. Patients who survived often had much less anxiety, but the price they paid included a loss of emotion, planning ability, and creativity. Fortunately, lobotomies are al- most never performed these days, because of the development of antianxiety, antidepressant, and antipsychotic medications that can often relieve symptoms without destroying substantial chunks of the brain.
Medical and even occasional surgical interventions have their places in treating severe, intractable mental illness, but their downside risks are much too high a price to pay for simple worrying. I only bring them up because they show that altering the relationship between the thinking and emotional parts of the brain can and does relieve anxiety, stress, and worry. In- stead of destroying or medicating brain pathways, however, we can learn to use them more consciously to better effect.
Our brain is wired to worry, but we can learn to worry less. We can also learn to be more effective when we do worry by using our brain to find and strengthen qualities that we need in order to change difficult situations or to cultivate acceptance of problems that are beyond our ability to solve. I will show you how we can use our mind and brain (and yes, there is a difference between the two) to calm ourselves, and to access wisdom, courage, creativity, and other personal qualities that will transform worry into confidence and effectiveness.
In order to make this transformation, we will use our imagination to add the wisdom of our unconscious emotional/intuitive mind to the conscious logic of our thinking mind. Worry, especially “bad” or futile worry, is simply imagination run amok. Using the imagination skillfully can not only eliminate unnecessary worry but also help us create the future we desire, and guide us wisely through life’s difficult passages.
Excerpt courtesy of Harmony Books, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2010 by Martin Rossman, M.D.