WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Americans are not only busier than ever before, they're also more worried than ever before. In his new book, "The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Worrying You," Dr. Robert Leahy says there are tools to prevent worry from consuming one's life.
Worry is a built-in aspect of daily life for 38 percent of the U.S. population, according to Leahy, who also notes that the rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse are on the rise.
"Worry is the common issue for all the anxiety and depression illnesses," Leahy explained, "but I want worriers to realize they're not alone."
Leahy's approach is based in cognitive theory or a form of short-term, focused psychotherapy in which a patient and therapist identify specific distortions and biases in thinking and then work to change such thoughts. Oftentimes a therapist may even assign homework-type assignments such as watching airplanes land or riding elevators numerous times to have patients directly face their negative thinking.
"I guarantee the 200th time you're on the elevator you're bored -- and boredom is better than fear," said Leahy.
But the root cause plaguing chronic worriers, 19 million Americans who keep coming back to worry so frequently that it disturbs not only their sleep patterns but also their enjoyment of life -- is the inability to accept uncertainty. Taking experiences from his patients and also his own approaches, Leahy proposes seven steps for any reader to attempt to combat worry.
The prevalence of anxiety is the highest it has been in 40 years, which Leahy attributes to more personal decisions and demands in life, an overall decline of community and simply "a lot more bad news." Because of these issues, he advises patients and readers to divide their own thoughts into productive or unproductive worry.
An item on the productive worry list is something that can be acted upon plausibly or reasonably in an immediate time frame resulting in solutions for the problem. Conversely, unproductive worry only leads to a chain of "what-ifs" and enforces the idea that a patient cannot do anything to combat the issue.
"It's all the same process, not so much what you worry about, but the important thing is the way your thinking goes about," said Leahy.
While for some patients therapy and medication may be useful as a team, Leahy stresses the importance of changing one's thoughts over turning to medications.
Some patients may attribute their success purely to a medication while others will stop their prescription and revert to their old symptoms. "Medication doesn't teach you skills ... cognitive therapy will provide skills for the rest of your life," Leahy said.
Another action includes challenging one's own worried thinking. Simply one anxious thought may lead to a whole host of possibilities only increasing distortions in thinking. "Fear of the unknown activates worry," Leahy said. He suggests assigning probabilities to troublesome subjects to help adjust the amount of worry allotted to each, and also examining the realities of such negative outcomes to mentally combat the issue.
The book also prompts readers to turn failure into opportunity, repeating the adage "behaviors fail, not people." Learning from mistakes is empowering and reinforces hope for the future. Leahy stresses the importance of perspective in dealing with failure; it remains one moment in time in the face of the future and maybe no one even noticed.
Other steps to combat worry include accepting reality as it truly is and committing oneself to changes enabling happiness, using emotions rather than worrying about them, and taking control of time by turning "the urgency off" and appreciating the moment.