How Not To Worry Yourself Sick Print E-mail
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Tom Murphy

Got worries? Who doesn't? Between the sluggish economy, two wars, global warming, mortality and day-to-day problems, nobody has to look far for things to worry about.

Dr. Rossman at a book signing. (RedwoodAge)

And that's something else to worry about, according to Dr. Martin Rossman, author of "The Worry Solution."

Rossman, a pioneer in mind/body medicine and an instructor the the University of California Medical School in San Francisco, worries about how much people worry because "bad worry" can turn into anxiety, which can turn into stress, which can make you sick.

Heart attacks, strokes, aches and pains, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia and many other ailments frequently stem from stress.

Rossman said anxiety is also the reason many people eat too much, drink too much, take drugs or engage in other bad habits that may ease their worries in the short term, but will eventually leave them diabetic, obese, addicted or otherwise, well, sick.

"We're wired to worry," Rossman said in a recent lecture in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate.

Thirty million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder, and Rossman speculates the number may be twice that if you add in the alcoholics, diabetics, heart disease victims and others who worry themselves into a serious medical disorder.

"There are a lot of ways to calm yourself down. One is eating a lot of ice cream, or a lot of beer," he says, noting that he doesn't prescribe those actions because they lead to deeper problems.

Worried Sick
Rossman estimates that half to three-quarters of all doctor visits stem from stress that begins with worry over anything from office politics to terrifying headlines on the evening news.

Not all worry is bad, of course. A worry triggers thought processes that, when used constructively, can help solve problems. Rossman calls that "good worry."

However, he points to studies showing that 85 percent of the things we worry about never happen.

"I think that fact is the very reason that people become habitual worriers," he said, "Because the brain thinks it didn't come true because you worried."

But he notes that's not necessarily so, and about 79 percent of the things that do happen turn out better than feared. That leaves only about three things out of 100 that may have been worth worrying about.

Just Imagine
Now, imagine you can stop worrying about whatever is worrying you. Seriously, just imagine. That's exactly what Rossman proposes; he says your imagination can turn "bad worry" into "good worry."

"Next to God and nature, [imagination] is the most powerful force," he said. "And we have very little training in how to use it."

Instead of training people to use their imaginations before kindergarten, "we're doing all this remedial education" to keep people from "literally creating stress out of your imagination."

Rossman's book is essentially a course in how to use your imagination "to turn stress and anxiety into confidence and happiness."

Some of the approaches in the book sound far too familiar - like echoes of the '70s. For example, he includes exercises in how to breath deeply and to imagine yourself in a beautiful place. But the book goes on, tackling the more complex task of using your imagination and "good worry" to solve the problems confronting you.

And once you do that, you can stop worrying about them.