Why worry when you can be concerned?

Are you worried, or just concerned?

The distinction is an important one, says Terence J. Sandbek, PhD, a psychologist specializing in the treatment of worried people. "If you keep thinking about the problem and don't take action, you worry. If you take appropriate action, that's concern."

The key is change, says Dr. Sandbek. If you can make a change for the better, then act on your concerns. If not, don't worry.

"Worry means not accepting things you can't change, or not taking action on things you can change. In our society, a lot of people, especially women, have been taught that worry is a sign of caring," Dr. Sandbek says. "We try to teach people that concern is a sign of caring and worrying is absolutely nonproductive."

Here are some strategies to cut down on the floor-pacing:

  • Set aside a "worry hour." Psychologists recommend putting off all of your worrying until a predetermined worry time—say, 7:00–8:00 pm every day. At the appointed hour, don't just sit and worry. Write, write, write about your fears. Writing during the worry hour will expose your worries as overblown.

  • Face fears with logical arguments. For example, tell yourself, "Even if it snows, I have good tires on my car and flares all ready. I'm prepared; I'll be fine."

  • Need a healthy outlet for anxiety? Exercise. It relieves tension and also helps control weight and strengthens your heart.

  • When worries preoccupy you, try reading a soothing book or watching an upbeat movie.

  • Can't get over your worries? To meet the textbook definition for chronic worrying, often referred to as generalized anxiety disorder, you would have to worry the majority of the days of the week, or 50 percent of each day. By contrast, the average person worries about 5 percent of each day. If you think you might be worrying too much, seek professional help.

  • Catch worrying early. Anxiety tends to spiral.

  • Cut the worry chain. People worried about money, for example, might envision a spiral that ends with their losing their house and being out on the street. Instead of focusing on the worst possible outcome, analyze the chain of events you've envisioned. Think of ways to solve the problem before it gets worse.
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