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Dr. Beverly Potter

The trouble with worrying is that it can get completely out of control and has a habit of escalating. Actor/director Woody Allen, a famous worrywart, illustrated this best when he said, “If I get chapped lips, I think it’s brain cancer.”

Worrying is a kind of “stuckness”. Worrywarts get stuck in identifying danger as they immerse themselves in the dread associated with the threat, which may be real or, more likely, imagined.”

Don’t think worrying is bad for you. Think of it as a mental fire drill, a thinking through of things that potentially might happen. It’s good to think over what could happen and to have a contingency plan. That is what productive and effective people do.

The problem is that the process generates anxiety. Worrywarts can become melodramatic and waste precious time. As American writer Mark Twain said, “There has been much tragedy in my life. And at least half of it actually happened!” Worrywarts can’t live in the here and now.

Chronic worry can evolve into panic attacks. The anxiety generates more worry, then more anxiety, then round and round you go. A twinge in your chest makes you believe you could soon have a heart attack, a news story about a home invasion 200 miles away keeps you up at night because you fear someone will break in when you’re asleep.

Learn to stop the worry cycle. You need to understand that just because you feel worried doesn’t mean there is anything wrong. It’s just your body reacting to those frightening thoughts you are thinking. Worrying is hard to give up.

Like a superstition, worry gives people relief and even reduces anxiety.

Who among us who has a fear of flying can’t relate to obsessing, when we have to fly, on the statistically improbable — the plane crashing. Worrywarts always gravitate to the worst possible scenario.

Learn to worry smart. Smart worriers don’t automatically flip into worrying, like a knee-jerk reaction. Smart worriers learn to soothe themselves so that they can bounce back from initial worries. Smart worriers learn “self-talk” — a kind of inner dialogue in which they talk to themselves the way a friend would, encouraging themselves and challenging extremes.

Smart worriers are hopeful, not hopeless. Smart worriers imagine positive possibilities, limit their worries to worry places or diaries, identify worry triggers, rate their worries on a scale of one to ten, challenge their worries, and learn how to under-react.

You can learn a new habit, but it takes effort. It’s easy to fall back into the habitual thinking pattern. Worry begets worry.

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Dr. Beverly Potter earned her Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Stanford University and her Masters of Science in vocational rehabilitation counseling from San Francisco State. She is a psychologist specializing in career and workplace issues, including overcoming job burnout, managing & leading yourself, maverick career strategies, mediating disputes, setting high performance goals, managing like a coach, managing stress, and training development. She has been an international authority on overcoming job burnout since her ground-breaking work, Overcoming Job Burnout, was published in 1980.

“Docpotter” blends humanistic psychology and Eastern mysticism with principles of behavior mod psychology to create strategies for handling the many challenges we're encountering in today's workplace. As a management educator and training specialist, Docpotter is a dynamic workshop leader known for her information packed sessions.

In corporate training Docpotter teaches managers at all levels how to help ordinary employees achieve extraordinary performance.

She was a member of the Stanford University Staff Development program for 20 years and provided seminars and training for a wide variety of corporations, governmental agencies and associations including Hewlett Packard, TRW-CI, Tap Plastics, California State Bar Association, California State Disability Evaluation (Social Security), Department of Energy, IRS Revenue Officers, International Association of Personnel Women, the Design Management Institute, Data Processing Management Association, Cisco Systems, Becton-Dickson, Genentech, Sun Microsystems, National SemiConductor, Shugart Associates, Western Vehicle Leasing Association, 3365 Entrepreneuring Association, Goldman School of Government (UCB) SLAC, De Anza College, Chabot College, University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University Extension and many others.

Her recent book is The Worrywart’s Companion: Twenty-One Ways to Soothe Yourself and Worry Smart.

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