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Quality of Life: Techniques to help kick the worry habit

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Quality of LifeAt the 1989 Grammy Awards ceremony, the song of the year designation was bestowed upon Bobby McFerrin for his song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Twenty years later, the background music for one of the most popular television commercials on the air was a song called “Trouble,” by Ray LaMontagne – the lyrics of which include the following: “Worry – worry, worry, worry, worry – worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone.” (You know the commercial. It was for Traveler’s Insurance, and it featured a dog attempting to figure out how to safeguard his prized rawhide bone.)

Call it a sign of the times. If it is possible to find a social barometer based upon what resonated with people two decades ago, as compared to what does now, I think it is safe to assume that we live in a worried society. If you look at the state of the economy and the housing market, not to mention what appears to be an increase in natural disasters around the world, it is easy to see why people might be more worried than they were in the late 1980s.

As attorneys, you could be more susceptible to worry than most, given that not only do you have your own issues to consider, you take on the problems of others as a means of earning your livelihood. You worry for a living. You have been trained to identify the possible pitfalls in any given situation. Before I went to law school, I used to be able to look at construction sites or highway repair crews without a second thought. Now I see nothing but potential injuries and accidents waiting to happen.

In and of itself, worry is not necessarily a bad thing. If a small amount of worry is used as the impetus to make sure that we stay prepared and on top of things, then it serves as a good motivator. It is when worry becomes chronic that problems can arise. Sometimes, and I am definitely guilty of this, people think that if they do enough worrying, they can keep something terrible from happening – as though worry creates a force field of protection against bad stuff. Well, I can tell you from experience, that doesn’t work. Bad stuff happens anyway. And as hard as it may be to believe – if the bad thing doesn’t happen, it isn’t because you spent all night worrying about it. Really.

What excessive worry can do, however, is make you sick. Chronic worry can cause an elevation in stress hormones, such as cortisol. This can, in turn, raise your blood sugar and triglyceride levels. Over the long haul, chronic worry can lead to symptoms of anxiety, including rapid heartbeat, fatigue, headaches, inability to concentrate, insomnia, irritability and muscle tension, among others. Eventually, it can set the stage for even more serious health problems.

For many, many people, worry can become a habit. That habit can lead to the litany of problems listed above. The good news is – you can break that habit. If worry is truly impeding your ability to live a happy and productive life, try visiting a counselor, therapist, or spiritual advisor. Sometimes you might need professional help to kick the worry habit.

If you choose to go it alone, consider these three effective methods to use to counteract the worry cycle. The first is to try the “worry time” method. To do this, set aside a half hour during the day and write down everything that is worrying you. Spend 30 straight minutes focusing only on your worries. Think about the worries and all of the potential negative outcomes and/or possible solutions related to them. Wallow in it. At the end of 30 minutes, stop. That’s all the time you are going to give to your worries for the day. If a worry creeps into your consciousness, push the thought away. Your worry time for the day is over. Keep it over. Don’t go back to it until your 30-minute allotted time the following day.

The second method is a good one to use if your worry results in insomnia. Before going to bed, write down everything that is worrying you and place the list on your bedside stand or somewhere near the bed. Your worries are all there. They will be safe all night. You don’t have to risk forgetting them overnight, because they will be waiting patiently at your side, ready to greet you in the morning. This should help you to get a more restful sleep. Getting more rest is useful in breaking the worry cycle, as many times worry is born of exhaustion. (You can even use your nighttime worry list as the basis for your 30-minute worryfest the next day – for complete worry efficiency! Believe me, it’s been done.)

The third method (which is helpful used in conjunction with the other two) is the exercise method. Walking, running, or other aerobic workouts are good for this method because exercise helps to dissipate negative energy created by worry. (It also can elicit an endorphin rush, which helps mental attitude as well!) For the first 15 minutes of your walk or run, allow yourself to worry about whatever is plaguing you that day. Then, for the next 15 minutes, put the “worry thoughts” out of your mind. Think about something fun, something good that happened during the day, or something you are looking forward to doing in the future. Envision placing the worry thoughts in a box and setting them aside for the rest of your run. The end of your run or walk is purely for positive thoughts.

While it may not be as simple as just saying “don’t worry, be happy,” if you try these methods, you can be on the road to banishing worry from your life.•

__________

Jonna Kane MacDougall, an Indianapolis attorney, is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis and a former law school career services director. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at 317-370-4361 or via email at whatsnextforyou@comcast.net. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.

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  1. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

  2. I've got some free speech to share here about who is at work via the cat's paw of the ACLU stamping out Christian observances.... 2 Thessalonians chap 2: "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

  3. Did someone not tell people who have access to the Chevy Volts that it has a gas engine and will run just like a normal car? The batteries give the Volt approximately a 40 mile range, but after that the gas engine will propel the vehicle either directly through the transmission like any other car, or gas engine recharges the batteries depending on the conditions.

  4. Catholic, Lutheran, even the Baptists nuzzling the wolf! http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-documents-reveal-obama-hhs-paid-baptist-children-family-services-182129786-four-months-housing-illegal-alien-children/ YET where is the Progressivist outcry? Silent. I wonder why?

  5. Thank you, Honorable Ladies, and thank you, TIL, for this interesting interview. The most interesting question was the last one, which drew the least response. Could it be that NFP stamps are a threat to the very foundation of our common law American legal tradition, a throwback to the continental system that facilitated differing standards of justice? A throwback to Star Chamber’s protection of the landed gentry? If TIL ever again interviews this same panel, I would recommend inviting one known for voicing socio-legal dissent for the masses, maybe Welch, maybe Ogden, maybe our own John Smith? As demographics shift and our social cohesion precipitously drops, a consistent judicial core will become more and more important so that Justice and Equal Protection and Due Process are yet guiding stars. If those stars fall from our collective social horizon (and can they be seen even now through the haze of NFP opinions?) then what glue other than more NFP decisions and TRO’s and executive orders -- all backed by more and more lethally armed praetorians – will prop up our government institutions? And if and when we do arrive at such an end … will any then dare call that tyranny? Or will the cost of such dissent be too high to justify?

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