The Worry Cure
Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You
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About the author
Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D., is clinical professor in psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and the editor and author of thirteen books. He is a founding fellow and the president-elect of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, the president of the International Association of Cognitive Psychotherapy, and the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City.
From the Hardcover edition.
You wish you didn’t spend as much time worrying as you do, but you just can’t seem to help it. Worrying feels like second nature. It’s what helps you solve your problems and prevents you from making mistakes. It’s what motivates you to be prepared—if you didn’t worry, things might get out of hand. Worry protects you, prepares you, and keeps you safe.
Is it working? Or is it making you tense, tired, anxious, uncertain—and more worried?
For more than twenty-five years, Dr. Robert L. Leahy has successfully helped thousands of people defeat the worry that is holding them back. The Worry Cure is his new, comprehensive approach to help you identify, challenge, and overcome all types of worry, using the most recent research and his more than two decades of experience in treating patients.
This empowering seven-step program, including practical, easy-to-follow advice and techniques, will help you:
• Determine your “worry profile” and change your patterns of worry
• Identify productive and unproductive worry
• Take control of time and eliminate the sense of urgency that keeps you anxious
• Focus on new opportunities—not on your fear of failure
• Embrace uncertainty instead of searching for perfect solutions
• Stop the most common safety behaviors that you think make things better—but actually make things worse
Designed to address general worries as well as the unique issues surrounding some of the most common areas of worry—relationships, health, money, work, and the need for approval—The Worry Cure is for everyone, from the chronic worrier to the occasional ruminator. It’s time to stop thinking you’re “just a worrier” who can’t change and start using the groundbreaking methods in The Worry Cure to achieve the healthier, more successful life you deserve.
From the Hardcover edition.
; November 2005
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Title: The Worry Cure
Author: Robert L. Leahy
1: Understanding Worry
Worry is everywhere. All of us worry, including me. You are not alone. In fact, 38 percent of people worry every day. And many people describe themselves as chronic worriers—they say, “I’ve been a worrier all my life.” But that’s only a modest indication of how worry has come to impact every aspect of our lives, limiting our enjoyment and satisfaction. Worry is the central component of all the anxiety disorders and depression. Research shows that worry precedes the onset of depression—you literally worry yourself into depression. Fifty percent of the people in the United States have had serious problems with depression, anxiety, or substance abuse at some time.1 Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse have increased during the past fifty years.2
The problem of worry is one that urgently needs a solution. To find one, we first need to understand it.
The Different Kinds of Worry
Let’s consider three people who worry.
•Jane is thirty-two years old and single. She and Roger just broke up after a two-year relationship. They had been talking about getting married, but Roger got cold feet, and Jane got fed up with him. She felt she didn’t want to wait forever for Roger to get his act together, so she broke it off. She knows she did the right thing, but now she worries: “Will I ever find a guy who can make a commitment?” and “Will I ever be able to have kids?” She sits in her apartment at night eating cookies and watching sitcoms.
•Brian is forty-five. He hasn’t filed his taxes for two years. He is sitting at home alone—just like Jane—thinking that he’s a loser for being so stupid not to file his taxes. He imagines the feds coming to his home and taking him away in handcuffs. Brian knows, in his rational mind, that he hasn’t committed a crime—his employer withheld the taxes, and he’s only late in filing. The worst case would probably be some kind of fine. But every time he sits down to start his taxes, his stomach clenches, his mind races, and he’s overcome by an overwhelming sense of dread. To avoid this feeling, he turns on ESPN and thinks, “I’ll wait for a better time.”
•Diane turns forty next month. She just had a complete medical exam two weeks ago, and everything is fine. But she feels a slight irregularity in her breast and begins to think, “Is this cancer?” Even though the doctor assured her she is healthy, Diane knows you can never be too careful. Just six months ago she thought she had Lou Gehrig’s disease. Diane was relieved to learn she didn’t have a serious neurological problem—only a bad case of nerves. Diane knows her fears are real—even though everyone else tells her to see a therapist.
I could fill several volumes with stories about people who worry. One of the volumes could probably be written by you! We worry about everything—getting rejected, ending up alone, doing badly on an exam, not looking that good, what someone thinks of us, getting sick, falling off cliffs, crashing in airplanes, losing our money, being late, going crazy, having weird thoughts and feelings, being humiliated.
You find yourself puzzled with thoughts like these:
•I know that I keep predicting the worst, but I can’t help myself.
•Even when people tell me it’s going to be OK, I still can’t stop worrying.
•I try to put these thoughts out of my mind, but they just keep coming back.
•I know it’s not likely to happen, but what if I’m the one?
•Why can’t I get control of my thoughts?
•Why am I driving myself crazy with these worries?
For example, Greg worries that things at work might go badly if he doesn’t get this project done on time. Even if he gets it done, he thinks it might not be up to par. The boss could get angry at him. What if he gets so angry he decides to fire him? After all, three people were laid off last month. And then what would his wife think? She’d be disappointed. Now Greg notices that he’s worrying again, and he thinks, “I’m worried all the time, and I can’t get any control over this worry. I’ll never get any sleep tonight, and then I’ll be tired, and then I won’t be able to get this project done.” And so on in a vicious circle.
Greg has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), or what I call the “what-if disease.” A lot of what we will discuss in this book relates directly to this particular kind of worry. If you have this problem, then you worry about a number of different things—money, health, relationships, safety, or performance. And you worry you don’t have control of your worries. This is one of the longest-lasting anxiety disorders. You jump from one worry to another, predicting one catastrophe after another. Plus you worry about the fact that you are worrying so much. Not only are you worried, but you also have difficulty sleeping, are irritable and tense and tired, have indigestion, sweat a lot, and just feel nervous a good deal of the time. It’s hard to relax. No wonder you are often depressed or have physical problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.3
About 7 percent of us have GAD. Women are twice as likely as men to have this problem. This is a chronic condition, with many people saying that they have been worriers all their lives.4 The first severe worry tends to begin during late adolescence or early adulthood. Most people with GAD never seek out psychotherapy; they generally see their doctor and complain about vague physical symptoms, such as fatigue, aches and pains, irritable bowel, and sleep problems. Those who do eventually go to therapy wait a long time before doing so—an average of ten years. In fact, worry is such a widespread problem that it may not even seem like a problem. That’s because you think, “Oh, I’m just a worrier” and believe that there’s nothing you can do about it. You think, “I’ve always been a worrier—and I always will be.”
Worry is not limited to GAD. In addition to this general what-if disease, others confront more specific types of worry—a fear of a specific situation, for example. These more targeted worries are part of every anxiety disorder and a central component of depression. This is important for two reasons. First, if you have GAD—or if you are a chronic worrier—then you probably have some problems with another anxiety disorder or depression. Second, if we cure your worry, your anxiety and depression should dramatically improve.
If you have social anxiety, then you worry that people will see you as weak, vulnerable, and anxious. You are shy, intimidated, afraid to speak in public, and worried that people will see that you are anxious. If you have post-traumatic stress disorder, then you worry that the intrusive images and frightening nightmares will never go away and that something terrible will happen. If you have specific fears, such as a fear of flying, then you worry that you will be injured or killed. And if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you worry you may have left something undone, or that you are contaminated, or that your thoughts will lead to dangerous impulses.
Now that you have evaluated the different kinds of worries you have for these different anxiety problems, let’s take a closer look at why your worry persists—no matter how many times things turn out OK.
Why You Keep Worrying
You have mixed feelings about your worries. On one hand, your worries are bothering you—you can’t sleep, and you can’t get these pessimistic thoughts out of your head. But there is a way that these worries make sense to you. For example, you think:
•Maybe I’ll find a solution.
•I don’t want to overlook anything.
•If I keep thinking a little longer, maybe I’ll figure it out.
•I don’t want to be surprised.
•I want to be responsible.
You have a hard time giving up on your worries because, in a sense, your worries have been working for you.
From the Hardcover edition.
In the press
Selected as one of the top 8 self-help books of all-time in SELF Magazine
“Dr. Leahy’s The Worry Cure should have been titled, ‘Seven Simple Steps to a Stress-Free Life.’ This book offers practical and powerful tools to reverse your worry and transform the quality of your life.” —Anthony Robbins, author of Awaken the Giant Within and Unlimited Power
“Highly instructive and accessible . . . Worriers will find relief here.” —Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., author of After the Affair and How Can I Forgive You?
“I heartily recommend this book to everybody who is worried . . . and that includes practically all of us. Eminent psychologist Dr. Robert L. Leahy has designed an easy-to-follow program pinpointing unproductive worries across the broad spectrum of relationships, work, health, and finances. In elegant style, he shows how to neutralize and even eliminate them.” —Aaron T. Beck, M.D., president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research and university professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania
“An excellent book. The self-assessment questionnaires narrow down each reader’s personal domains of worry, giving them a leg up on making life-altering changes, and the easy-to-understand step-by-step procedures for overcoming worry provide useful tools that are research-based.” —Monica Ramirez Basco, Ph.D., author of Never Good Enough and coauthor of Getting Your Life Back
“Clear and easy to follow . . . like having Dr. Leahy, one of the foremost psychologists in the world, as your personal therapist. His superb insights and understanding of worry allow him to reasonably and logically address this often unreasonable and illogical problem.” —Arthur Freeman, Ed.D., A.B.P.P., coauthor of Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda and The 10 Dumbest Mistakes Smart People Make and How to Avoid Them
“Compelling, informative, and highly accessible. This book is certain to become the standard in assisting those who worry achieve fuller, healthier lives.” —Douglas Mennin, director of the Yale Anxiety and Mood Services
“A must-read . . . During a time when society is under more stress than ever comes this comprehensive book written by one of the world’s most noted authorities. Packed with clinical advice in a practical style, it addresses everyone from the occasional worrywart to some of the most severe types of ruminators.” —Frank M. Dattilio, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., department of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
"Engagingly and persuasively [Leahy] coaxes self-tormentors to have mercy on themselves. Rather than offering palliatives, like 'be more positive,' or 'try to get your mind off it,' he acknowledges that many chronic worriers—including the subset he calls 'defensive pessimists'—want to worry, and are superstitious that, if they fail to worry, they will jinx themselves. Instead he recommends that they manage their fears by scheduling regular freakout sessions, and gives pointers on how they can realistically deal with their concerns.
[The Worry Cure's] seven chapters offer self-testing personality profiles, case study parables, and Dr. Leahy's analyses to help readers identify their stumbling blocks and learn how to hurdle them. This crash course in gnosis is followed by five chapters on common fixations like 'What if nobody likes me?' 'What if my lover leaves me?'and 'What if I really am sick?'
You may or may not turn out to be the unlovable outcast you fear you are, but that's beside the point. 'Worry more effectively,' the author says; and remember that it's your parents who really ought to be stressed out. After all, you are their fault." —New York Times Styles
From the Hardcover edition.