Vitamin Connect

I recently had the privilege of hearing Dr. Ned Hallowell speak. He is a child and adult psychiatrist and the founder of The Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury, MA.

Dr. Hallowell is considered one of the foremost experts on the topic of ADD and ADHD. He is the co-author, with Dr. John Ratey, of Driven to Distraction, and Answers to Distraction, which have sold more than a million copies.

Chronic worry is a common aspect of ADD. The symptoms of excessive distractibility, impulsivity, and restlessness can lead both children and adults to underachieve at school, at work, in relationships and marriage. But you don’t have to suffer from ADD to understand what worry is all about. Worry is the most common reason people see their doctor. The message of Dr. Hallowell is this: “Now, more than ever, we need to connect.” Social isolation, he says, is even more dangerous than cigarette smoking.

Here are 10 steps from Ned that can help us combat the tendency to worry:

1. Never worry alone: This is the most important principle. Talk to someone when you feel worried. Don’t worry in solitude. Resist giving in to the temptation of telling everyone to go away so you can sit in silence and brood over your problem. You will lose perspective, get depressed, and make bad decisions. Instead connect with anyone you like and trust.

2. Get all the facts: Toxic worry is often based on wrong projection or faulty information. If you are worried that a friend is upset with you, or that you have made an error at work, ask for feedback. Don’t assume anything. Get as much of the relevant evidence as you can.

3. Have a plan: Once you have all the facts, get moving. Toxic worry loves a passive victim. Like a buzzard flying above, it hovers over you. As long as you stay in an active mode you will feel less vulnerable and more in control. Even if the plan is not perfect, it is still better than no plan. You can always revise later.

4. Change your physical state: Walk around. Run up and down stairs. Do some rollerblading. Go out for a hike. Play volleyball. Any change to your physical state, especially that brought on by exercise, will change your brain’s chemistry. It is like pushing the reboot button on your brain. Simple, but it works.

5. Consult a professional: If your worrying persists, go see an expert, like a psychologist or a psychiatrist or a social worker or a coach. There are many kinds of toxic worry that most people do not know about, just as they didn’t know about ADD years ago. Get treated by a professional.

6. Add structure to your life: Many everyday worries are exacerbated disorganization: What have I forgotten? Will I get there in time? What didn’t I bring that brochure with me? Lists, reminders, a daily schedule, a basket next to the front door where you always dump your keys – these concrete bits of structure can dramatically reduce the amount of time you spend each day in useless worry.

7. Look for what is good: We are surrounded by so much bad news all the time, we have to actively look for what is good. Do an inventory every day- big things: children, friends, health, a mate- and the little things- a pair of shoes you like, a door that closes without squeaking, an omelette that tastes good.

8. Learn how to talk to yourself in a calming way: Watch out for your default panic mode, and try to replace it with calm rational thoughts instead: “It’s never as bad as you think,” or “Remember last time? It all worked out OK.” Harsh self-directed criticism is a needless form of torture. Treat yourself as you would your best friend – with compassion and understanding.

9. Let it go: This one isn’t easy. For worriers, letting go of worry can feel dangerous, as if our worrying somehow protects us. We need to practice letting go. If you’ve done all you can to affect a particular outcome (or even if you haven’t and you’re just exhausted) then you need to relax and let it go. In the words of T.S. Eliot “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

And the one I love most of all:

10. Take care of yourself: When people worry at a toxic level, they tend to forget the basics of self-care, which only makes their worrying worse. A few basic steps of self-care you should practice all the time: pray, meditate, sleep and eat a balanced diet. Vigorous exercise also acts as an anti-anxiety agent and an antidepressant.

The human connection – or what Dr. Hallowell calls vitamin C – is an essential component of human wellbeing. It fortifies us against worry and gives us courage beyond our own. Best of all – it’s free!

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