Worrying Well: Turning Anxiety into Calmness

If you only have 15 minutes for the video, move the slider on the video below to the 1:05:58 time index. Here Dr  Rossman gives a demonstration of meditation using guided imagery. You can download an mp3 of this presentation and carry the meditation with you to practice at any point throughout your day. 

Martin L. Rossman, M.D. is a pioneer of mind/body medicine and healing, and recently I ran across his very wonderful talk on "Worrying Well: How Your Brain Can Turn Anxiety and Stress Into Calmness and Confidence", and you can watch the full video below or at the UCSF website or download an mp3 so you can take to talk with you. Here are some highlights from the talk on worry.

  • Worry gets bad press because we don't do it well. Healthy worry is thinking about things we can do something about. Anxiety is worrying about things we have no control over. Dr Rossman refers to the Serenity Prayer as a valid guide for determining where we focus our mind.
  • Our ability to analyze, calculate allow us to take the things we imagine and make them real. Worry is a function of imagination. If you don't have imagination you won't have worry. Then again, you wouldn't be creative, spontaneous or experience much joy without imagination.
  • We often worry about things that don't happen. 9 times out of 10, the things we worry out don't come to pass. You can try it by writing down some of your worries and then check in again in about 3 months. See for yourself how many of your worries have actually happened.
  • Worry can be a form of distraction and keep us from thinking about things that may be more emotionally painful, or stressful. We may be using worry to avoid things we might actually be able to resolve if we were to put attention and effort into those things. 
  • Worry is a type of repetitive, circular thinking, whereas anxiety is an uncomfortable, physical response, and stress is a physical response that prepares you for challenges.
Dr Rossman then goes on to talk about anxiety, explains how the brain reacts to thoughts and axiety, and concludes with ways of managing anxiety.
  • The adult human brain is changeable. We are not stuck with our anxious brains. Relatively new scientific research on neuroplasticity has demonstrated that the brain can change itself, through structured, repetitive practice over time. 
  • The brains of men and women are wired differently, and this helps explain mens' relative lack of awareness of emotions compared to women. It's simply biology, but it can be changed through repetition and practice.
  • Self-directed neuroplasticity is the notion of using your own mind to change your brain. 
There is good worry and bad (or unhelpful) worry. Dr Rossman recommends a simple technique to sort out these two.
  • Good worry anticipates and solves problems. Ask yourself, "Is it likely that I can do anything about this?"  Writing out your worries can help you determine if you are engaged in "good" worry or "bad" worry. If you can't do anything about it, put it on your unhelpful or futile worry list. 
  • Bad worry is circular, habitual, or "magical", doesn't lead to solutions. It scares you and can become a kind of auto suggestion, making you suggestive to fear through the repetitive process of "bad" worry.
  • The serenity prayer can be a useful affirmation to help remind you to let go, or stop thinking about things you have no control over and direct your energy toward the things you can control or influence. 
Here are some simple strategies for making decisions in the face of worry or anxiety.
  • Talk to people who are wise, to help you make a good decision about a worry.
  • Imagine you are having a conversation Jesus, or Mohammad, Gandhi or Yoda, or even your wise grandmother, and imagine what they would tell you to do. Imagine what someone important to you would say, someone with wisdom, intelligence, and someone you respect.
  • Imagine what you'd tell a friend. It's usually easier to give advice to others, so it can be helpful to imagine what we'd tell someone else. 
  • Think about your intention. Focus on the outcome you desire, rather than the thing you are avoiding. Just like throwing darts, if you look at the bullseye you'll have greater success at hitting your mark.

My name is Dave Ebaugh and I hope these links are helpful to you. I've been providing counseling in Portland, Oregon, to individuals, couples and families for over 20 years. Please feel free to call or use the contact form if you have any questions about any of this material, or if I can help in any way.