When you’re riddled with anxiety or worry, it can feel like you’re in the back seat of a careering car. Your anxiety and worry have hijacked the driver’s seat, feet slammed on the gas, while you’re confused and feeling out of control with no access to the brakes. It’s frustrating and demoralizing to feel like you’re being dragged around by angst and unease.
Fortunately, there are many effective techniques to help you return to the driver’s seat.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Tristan, a researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine and author of the forthcoming book Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living (available December 4, 2012).
As her book title reveals, Tristan believes that we can stop coping with anxiety and worry and instead start living fulfilling lives. She discusses this in greater detail below.
Q: What does it mean to stop coping with anxiety and start living your life?
A: We live in an age of global anxiety. Uncertainties and challenges from finances, relationships, work and home can leave us feeling constantly stressed out, worried, and tense. If feeling edgy is the new norm, are we really happy or merely coping our way through life?
It doesn’t have to be this way. I wrote this book to help others get back in the driver’s seat. To do this, we first need to understand that worry is a natural biological process designed to help keep us safe.
Worry is the little voice that alerts you to a health problem just in time before matters get worse. But worrying constantly about your health does more harm than good. Worry also may help provide a competitive edge in business, school, or sports as you strive to improve and do better. But constantly worrying if you will succeed does not help.
The problem is one of balance and most of us are way out of balance. Unfortunately, continually worrying without resolving problems can also lead to anxiety. Now your worries escalate in intensity and you may also experience the gripping fear of anxiety or panic attacks that seem to come out of the blue. This creates a whole new set of worries.
Fortunately, the solution is not complicated, but does require mentally rewiring circuits blown by chronic worrying. Your two most powerful tools to stop coping and start living enjoyably are: Awareness and Choice.
First, you need to pump up the volume and begin to hear the constant mental chatter in the background that makes dire predictions of doom and gloom. By engaging your power of Choice, you acknowledge, evaluate, and often robustly disagree with the negative outcomes predicted. Scientific studies show that 85 percent of what we worry about never comes true.
Ultimately adopting a mindset of living more consciously, in the present moment, and focusing on what’s right, not [on] what’s wrong, will put you on the fast track to creating calm, even during chaos.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about worry and anxiety?
A: Chronic worrying robs your life of joy. You may not be aware of how often you are worrying and marinating in negativity. That is the saddest thing of all.
Only you can change what you’re aware of. Before you can stop the cycle of anxious thinking and reacting, you first need to wake up to how your mind is operating.
Making better mental choices helps you feel peaceful even in the setting of strife and chaos. Your personal power comes from your ability to choose. You can choose to create a more enjoyable, loving and powerful life by placing your intentions on a plan to do so. Always remember, our thoughts create our lives… Choose wisely!
Learn more about Tristan and her upcoming book at her website.