Person to Person: Put Worry In Time Slots To Control Stress

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen
Tribune News Service

Are you walking around in a daze about worry you can’t fix? You might worry morning, noon and night.

Worry can feel like a dead weight in your heart or your stomach. You can’t talk it away, ignore it or wave a magic wand to fix it.

You might have money problems, health problems, or relationship problems. Or, you might be struggling with something complex that’s taking over your life.

“I thought I had a pretty good life,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Pam. “I did until my adult son got a divorce and my elderly parents both developed health problems. For a couple of weeks, I felt nothing but pressure inside my head.”

Most of us have multiple issues that weigh on our minds. To fix the stress, it pays to set some parameters around dealing with such pain.

Here are some tips:

-Live 24 hours at a time. This helps you prevent overloading your anxiety levels. Try to figure out what steps you will take each day vs. worrying about tomorrow too much.

-Put worry into a 30-minute time frame each day. Think of it as a half-hour to devise solutions. And, try your best to avoid worrying first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

-Come up with small steps. Break down your solutions into doable tasks, such as phone calls you can make or small favors you can solicit from someone.

Our friend Pam, for example, was worried about her grandchildren during her son’s divorce. She also wondered how her son would keep himself together emotionally.

Pam told us she sat down every night after dinner for a week to think through a plan.

“I figured out I could drive my grandkids to some of their activities,” Pam says. “I do that now, and I keep the kids on weekends for a few hours. My son says this really helps him.”

Pam met with a couple of her friends to devise steps to help her parents. “I work full time, so I worried about taking them to doctors’ appointments and helping them cook and clean,” Pam says.

To keep her worry time focused, Pam started meeting with her two best friends on Sunday afternoons. She has used them as a sounding board for the past several weeks.

Pam says she makes it a point to stay upbeat. “I don’t want to drag down my good friends,” she points out. “So, I keep a notebook and try to review one problem at a time.”

Her friends suggested she ask her boss for Wednesday afternoons off, so she could schedule her parents’ doctors’ appointments on Wednesday afternoons only, if possible. Pam’s sister has agreed to help out when needed as well.

Pam’s teenage nieces, who are old enough to drive, have started taking turns helping Pam shop and clean for her elderly parents on Saturday mornings.

“To make my juggling work, I hire my nieces to clean my house one day each month,” Pam told us.

“I try to fine-tune my plan regularly,” says Pam. “But, I don’t allow myself to worry all through the day. I wait until I can sit down and focus. A few times I’ve sneaked off to the library to think, or I’ll sit in a restaurant alone and make notes. I’m still stressed, but not overly stressed.”
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<em>(Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)</em>

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