‘Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living’
By: Sue Hornof
If you’re feeling a bit anxious right about now, you are not alone: Studies have shown that December is the most stressful month of the year. During the holidays, many people experience anxiety over finances, shopping, potential family conflicts or the stress of creating the “perfect” holiday.
For most of us, life will return to normal in January, but for others, anxiety is a constant companion, and it can become almost paralyzing.
Kathryn Tristan, a research scientist on the faculty of Washington University School of Medicine and a resident of Chesterfield, used to be one of those people. For 20 years, her life was riddled with worry and anxiety.
“I was a big worrier,” Tristan said. “I suffered from anxiety, and I eventually suffered from panic attacks for many years before I figured out what was going on.”
During her struggle, she tried some therapy and medication, and while they helped somewhat, they did not erase the problem.
Eventually, Tristan found a way to recover permanently, and she shares her method in a new book, “Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living” (Beyond Words, December 2012). The key, she said, is to learn to rewire your brain.
“What I’m trying to promote is the idea that we all have a psychological immune system -– just like we have a biological immune system,” Tristan said. “The psychological immune system is something that feeds your worries constantly; this could go wrong, that could go wrong, this might be a problem, this could be a big problem.
“You have a constant barrage of thoughts that come to you, and when you pay attention to those, it can wire your brain for constantly worrying.”
What helped Tristan most, she said, was recognizing that by worrying, she was making a choice.
“What I’m suggesting is that the psychological immune system was only meant to be like the soldier – it was never meant to be the general,” she said. “We are the general who gets to choose which worrisome thoughts to pay attention to.”
In her book, Tristan breaks down into four basic strategies the “rewiring” process that worked for her. She said anyone can use them to try to tackle chronic worry or chronic anxiety. As any easy way to remember them, she uses the acronym “CORE,” because she believes people have to “go to their core and change from the inside out.”
• “C” stands for choice, because worry is a choice, even though you don’t think it is, Tristan said.
• “O” is for outlook, and Tristan suggests in her book a number of ways to have “outlook makeovers” that will take a person from “terribilizing” thoughts to “possibilizing” thoughts.
• “R” stands for risk. “Whether it’s following our dreams or trying to get that magical relationship, we aren’t taking the risk because we’re worried about how it might turn out,” Tristan said. “Once you start making better choices, once you change your outlook, then you can start taking measured risks. … Get out of your comfort zone.”
• “E” stands for “embracing your spiritual, intuitive side that allows you to explore who you are, what goals you have in life, and your connection to your inner spirit” and is like the icing on the cake, Tristan said. “Once you start pursuing your passions that you were too afraid to do – things that will actually make you happy – you are a happier person and you give more happiness back to everyone around you.”
Tristan said she wrote the book as a self-help tool in hopes that others can benefit from the strategies that worked for her.
“This is the journey I went through, and thank God I went through it, because I understand it now,” she said. “A lot of people are going through the same thing, and I really do think these ideas can help them change their lives.
“You don’t have to live a worried life. There’s another side to the coin.”
“Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living” is available in bookstores and through Tristan’s website, whyworrybook.com.