The Worry Solution
Podcast #112 — Aired November 28, 2016

Do you suffer from constant worry? Dr. Martin Rossman says worry is the most common form of suffering in the United States, but his new book, The Worry Solution, can help. This week on BetterWorldians Radio Dr. Rossman will explain the difference between “good worry” from “bad worry” and will help listeners figure out how to take action for a life of less worry.

 

 

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Dr. Martin Rossman
Author, The Worry Solution

Dr. Martin Rossman is the author of The Worry Solution. Dr. Rossman is a clinical instructor at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School, the founder of the healing mind dot org, and the author of Fighting Cancer from Within and Guided Imagery for Self-Healing. Dr. Rossman is a popular keynote speaker and workshop leader who has presented more than 600 invited lectures, keynote lectures and workshops. His national PBS special, The Healing Mind, is airing nationally in 2016.

 

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Hi, welcome to BetterWorldians radio. BetterWorldians radio is a weekly broadcast whose mission is to uplift and inspire you to make the world a better place. I am Ray Hansell, joined today by my co-host Mary Sue Hansell. BetterWorldians radio is brought to you by BetterWorldian's foundation and it is co-hosted by the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook called a Better World. A Better World rewards players for doing good deeds while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. Today over 40,000 million good deeds have been done in a Better World by more than 4 million people in over 100 countries. Today on BetterWorldians radio, we are talking with Dr. Martin Rossman, the author of the Worry Solution. Dr. Rossman is a clinical instructor at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School. The founder of the healingmind.org and the author of Fighting Cancer From Within and Guided Imagery for Self-Healing. Dr. Rossman is a popular keynote speaker and workshop leader who has presented more than 600 invited lectures, keynote lectures and workshops. His National PBS special, the Healing Mind is airing nationally this year, in 2016. Hi, Doctor Rossman, thanks for joining us today on BetterWorldians radio.

Dr. Rossman
Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate the work that you do.

Raymond Hansell
Thank you. Thank you so much. Now you write that 'worry' is the common form of suffering in the United States. Can you tell our listeners what you mean by that?

Dr. Rossman
Well, when I was thinking about what to write about when I got the urge to write a certain book. I approached it by thinking about what could I write about that would relieve the most suffering in our country and I, as a medical Doctor I started thinking the toll of stress. Stress plays a huge role in all of medicine. Its a source of significant suffering both emotional, mental and also physical. As I started to think about what kind of approach when I think about stress because theres been a lot of- written about stress and stress management, stress relief. I started to think about worry because worry is really the mental part of stress. Its the- what we would call the cognitive part of stress really. Stress is actually a physical reaction in the body to a perceived threat and anxiety which is closely related to both stress and worry. Its an emotional reaction. But worry is the mental part and because it takes place in the thinking cap part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, the most newly evolved part of the brain, its the part of anxiety and stress that we have the best chance of doing something about. If you look at statistics in the United States, theres something like 60 million Americans that are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or diagnosable psychiatric condition, which at least that many who undoubtedly could be diagnosed that way too but they present differently. They present with alcoholism, drug abuse, overeating and various forms of acting out that basically are attempts to reduce anxiety and worry. I would throw those in there and just about everybody else is at least sometimes worried, everybody worries its normal but too many people worry all the time. From the medical perspective, there is very common quoted figures. It come from a variety of epidemiologists and governmental organizations that keep track of something and they attribute up to- from 75 to 90% of all visits to primary care doctors as directly or indirectly related to stress and anxiety. When you look at, the money spent, the time spent, the wide variety of symptoms that people have, the huge number of medications both prescription and so-called recreational that are spent on this effort [00:04:50], this could go a long way towards helping people. At least not, not drive themselves crazy with worry that they dont need to have.

Raymond Hansell
Absolutely. Yeah, we thoroughly enjoyed the reading of your book and we've been studying this field in around and around this area for some time. We talked a little bit about some of the side-effects of worry. Why is it that people worry? Why do we worry?

Dr. Rossman
Well, I think worry is a survival technique really. I think its a way that our brains function that whose purpose if you will, is to help us avoid danger and avoid trouble. The thing that makes the human brain different than any other brain we know about at least is- one of the things that makes it different is the ability to imagine things and the ability to imagine lets us do is, it lets us learn from past experiences on the one hand. But it also allows us to project into the future to literally imagine what would happen if I do? What would happen if I did that? In that sense, worrying about something and kind of anticipating what would happen if we went down that path or we went down that street or we started with this business or we chose this form of medical treatment. It gives us an advantage over organisms that cant do that because we can symbolically at least imagine the outcomes and payoffs or detriments of future kinds of actions. I think, the primary function of the brain- the human brain is an amazing thing. But the primary function of the brain is to keep you alive. Thats its number 1 job. Thats what it prioritizes over everything else. If you were a primitive living person and you are going to go out hunting for game and you thought, well the last hunting party went out off on that particular path and only half of them came back as they ran into a predator that took care of them. You'd kind of rethink that so lets not take that path this time lets go down this other path thats worked better for people in the past. In that way, if you think about worry as imagining what would happen if you took a particular action. I think its protective. It led us learn from other people's mistakes in way. Not just our own. Which is a good thing.

Raymond Hansell
So, there's a place for worry--

Dr. Rossman
Yeah, I think its an adaptive function of the brain but--

Raymond Hansell
So we dont have to worry about that--

Dr. Rossman
Go ahead.

Raymond Hansell
We dont have to worry about that. It has its place.

Dr. Rossman
It has its place but it easily turns into a bad habit that for many people can actually create more problems than it solves and thats what a lot of the worry solution is about is, how do you differentiate between what I call good worry and bad worry. Useful worry on the one hand that solves problems or saves you from unnecessary danger or pain, versus what I call bad worry which is futile way, f-u-t-i-l-e, where you are just imagining over and over and over all the things you dont want to have happened which creates anxiety and all of the related behaviors and symptoms in the body and not only doesnt solve problems but actually creates problems that dont even exist.

Raymond Hansell
So, you call bad worry- things about like, fretting about things we can do absolutely nothing about. How do we--

Dr. Rossman
Yeah.

Raymond Hansell
How do we eliminate that bad worry?

Dr. Rossman
Well, its hard to eliminate for a few reasons but there are ways to respond to it that are preferable so, if worry has become a habit in somebodys life and it frequently does because for one reason, I think we get rewarded in a way for worrying because theres actually been research that shows that 85% of all the things people worry about never happen. Its pretty interesting kind of statistic so the thing is though that the brain might interpret as that didn't happen because I worry too well about it. Go ahead.

Raymond Hansell
I like that. thats an interesting--

Dr. Rossman
Yeah, the brain gets rewarded for its called superstition.

Raymond Hansell
Superstition.

Dr. Rossman
Thats how superstitions develop. Because you worry about it, which in a sense worry is an upside down way of praying. Really if you think about it. Its just putting a negative spin on the prayer and really the best way to deal with bad worry if you have become a habitual worrier and you just go from one thing to the next thing to the next thing to the next thing and instead of using worry like you are turning a ball of yarn over and over to solve the problem, you are just going over and over and over all these things you dont want to have happen and you cant really take an action outside of thinking about it. The technique is actually very simple that I teach people. Its called positive worry imagery and in a way, its like, instead of thinking about- oh Aunt Betsy is she's sick and she's in the hospital or I'm afraid of whats going to happen to her and visualizing that and unconsciously going over and over the outcome you dont want to have happen which alarms your own systems and puts it into a fight or flight stress response. The better thing to do about that is to turn it into a prayer if you pray. Or a positive outcome imagery, in other words as you start worrying about Aunt Betsy, start imagining her getting good medical [00:11:15] of getting better, healing up, getting out of the hospital and resuming her life. You are still thinking about her but instead of- but in a sense, you are kind of voting for the positive outcome that you would like to see happen. While you are going over and over it you're at least spending your own time going over the positive result you would like to see. There are many people who think well, thinking positively that way will actually have an effect on Aunt Betsys outcome. I wouldnt argue with that but I also cant say thats necessarily true. I dont know whether thats true or not. Sometimes I think it is and sometime I think it isnt. But the person it will have an effect on is you because you are spending your time sending loving energy, sending positive energy and imagining a positive outcome which is much more calming to you than going over and over and over the negative outcomes. You dont want to have---

Raymond Hansell
Just ruminating over the bad outcomes.

Dr. Rossman
Exactly.

Raymond Hansell
We talked a little bit about the best way to take action in the case of bad worry. Whats the best way to take action in good worry?

Dr. Rossman
Well, any effective way of taking action is good. I pretty much define good worry as worry that you could do something about. Problem we can do something about, where worrying- if you use worry in the sense of going over and over the problem and kind of looking at it from different angles may allow you to have insights and creative insights to help you solve the problem. Now, a lot of people once they see what to do and what action to take, dont have any trouble taking that action. But a significant number of people will see what needs to be done but arent very good at planning- putting the vision of what needs to be done into action. Theres a process that I usually call turning insight into action or taking effective action. If thats your problem that sometimes you know what to do but you dont get it from the idea into reality, this is a process that I teach in the book, in the CDs called Taking Effective Action which will break that process down and help you see where you get stuck and help you see what to do about that place where you get stuck.

Raymond Hansell
Those are some of my favorite parts of your book is where you really talk people through the use of imagery to walk their ways out of the sort of the loop of negative thinking and negative worrying and anxiety and stress that really leads to nothing and walk their way through imagination and through imagery to a much better outcome at least in the way you perceive this and then also in the way that you can take action. Thats really well done and I really compliment you for that. I think our listeners are really going to love to hear more about. Even at the end of the book when you talk a little bit about the qualities that you want to select and think about the ways in which you have exhibited those qualities or other people have exhibited those qualities is another way of really taking your imagination in the direction that will reinforce your strengths and also reinforce a path to a more effective outcome so, I definitely like that a lot about what I saw there and I really think that was very differentiated so I compliment you on that.

Dr. Rossman
Well, good. It the idea of the book and its really a book and a CD, Ray, I have written each of my books like that where the books have the rationale and the signs and case histories and this makes sense and how you go about using these techniques and typically I've recorded anywhere from 1 to 5 CDs that then lead people through the relaxation and guided imagery exercises that the book teaches so its kind of like a whole brain, right brain, left brain. The book is the left-brain information that CDs read you through the right brain experiential processes that are really where the action happens. I really created them to be kind of like a- home study courses are my favorite terminology, but I dont have a better one, it would really be a step-by-step course like I want to learn how to worry less. I want to learn how to worry more effectively when I do worry. This is a guidebook with experiences that you practice that will teach you how to get there. Thats my purpose in doing it.

Raymond Hansell
Excellent. We are going to be talking more with Dr. Rossman in a moment but right now, I'd like to talk a brief break and tell our listeners a little bit about our social game on Facebook called, a Better World. A Better World encourages habits of goodness, positive mindsets and giving to social causes to make a positive difference in the world. Players do things like express gratitude, share their acts of kindness, send get well notes to real-world sick children and many many more. Each month, we also partner with a different charity and we challenge our players to do a certain number of good deeds within the game. When they do, typically we release funds to that charity partner of the month. You can find out more at: abetterworld.com and play the game and I encourage you to do so. Now lets get back to our conversation with Dr. Martin Rossman, author of the Worry Solution and my co-host Mary Sue Hansell.

MarySue Hansell
Hi Doctor Rossman.

Dr. Rossman
Hi Mary Sue.

MarySue Hansell
You know you write in your book that women worry more than men. Now why is that? Is it something in genetics or the way the brain is, or what?

Dr. Rossman
Well, I think its partly that. Partly is that they have more to worry about.

MarySue Hansell
Okay. [laughs]

Dr. Rossman
Because they worry more about men probably--than men worry about men. But a part of it is that, there are differences between womens brains and mens brains. I mean women, generally are smaller, are not as fast or not as stronger so in the natural world the differentiation of who goes out and finds the game and who wrestles you down and who fights the wars and who fights the enemies and who protects the family on a physical basis, it tends to be more men more than women. The women are physically at a disadvantage if you take- I mean there are certainly women who can beat the crap out of any man around but in the majority if you match a man with a woman, the man is going to be physically stronger. thats calming if you have the woman and you have a strong man whos going to protect you and your offspring but it could be challenging if you are a woman and you have the big and strong man whose violent and isnt in control of his anger and his temper so on and so forth. There are those things to worry about and the women still and always had much more of a responsibility in raising the offspring or who are helpless for a long period of time, who needs protection so that there are areas in the brain in the areas called the amygdala [00:18:52] and the prefrontal cortex that in women are larger than they are in men and those tend to be areas that process vigilance and process fear that alert women to danger and when women have babies, there are actually changes in their brains that enlarge those areas of the brain so that, this is something that most people notice and its not an old wives tale or something thats made up is that, when a woman has a child, their brain changes and they become much more vigilant than they were before. We see that all the time. A mother will even in modern highly civilized society and we men will let their kids play in ways that a lot of times our wives are shocked that, you know how you let [inaudible 00:19:51]

MarySue Hansell
[laughs] Yes

Dr. Rossman
We wont even notice. What wrong with that? I did that one when I was a kid--

MarySue Hansell
Very true.

Dr. Rossman
We are programmed in those areas of our brains are not atrophied but they are less emphasized.

MarySue Hansell
Well, its really interesting--

Dr. Rossman
Men are less vigilant to that. To those kinds of dangers.

MarySue Hansell
Its really interesting to hear that the women have a bigger, amygdala [00:20:19] as you say. Because I am reading a lot about that but I never read that but I never read that so thats interesting. Now can you--

Dr. Rossman
Theres a really interesting book called the Female Brain.

MarySue Hansell
You know what, I ordered that because I saw that, you've mentioned that. I did order it. I didn't get it yet but I will be happy to read that.

Dr. Rossman
Louann Brizendine, she also wrote a book on the male brain. Its very interesting to read that and again, that change in the brain, I mentioned before that the brains number 1 job is to keep us alive. Well, guess what its number 2 job is?

MarySue Hansell
Whats that?

Dr. Rossman
Number 2 job is to perpetuate the species.

MarySue Hansell
Okay.

Dr. Rossman
When we have these helpless offspring that take a long time to develop and dont come out ready to defend themselves, somebody has to protect them and thats still biologically that is typically the woman who is breastfeeding the child and feeding and taking care of them is much more physically attached to it than the man. So, her brain changes to be even more alert to danger than she was before.

MarySue Hansell
In the book, you have a great story if you remembered about a woman named Maloney and how she navigated the worry that came along with her divorce. I thought it would be interesting for the listeners to hear about it and would give them a great insight into the technique.

Dr. Rossman
Yeah. Well, there is more than one technique but its a story that illustrates one of the really great powers of imagery which is that imagery which is very natural way of thinking but that most of us have not been educated and using and I think thats part of the- with all of my books whether its Guided Imagery for Self-Healing or Fighting Cancer From Within or the Worry Solution, my mission is to help people catch up on education about their imagination and that we- none of us really got.

MarySue Hansell
Right.

Dr. Rossman
Unless we got interested later on but imagery has the potential to connect us with the big view. It has the potential to connect us with our wiser selves, with our bigger selves to help see the forest with the trees and so Maloneys story was that, she was married, with a couple of kids and her husband suddenly announced to her he was leaving and that he had another love interest and it really came out of the blue for her. It really blew her world apart. Thats a very traumatic thing to hear. A lot of emotions flood in and a lot of practical things that you have to do kind of flood in and its a real shock to the system and she was early on feeling really pretty overwhelmed. Feeling like she had to all these things to take care of herself and her children at the same time. Feeling just emotionally overwhelmed and after we talked about- and she expressed some of that emotion and calmed down a little bit, I invited her to just get quiet, to take some time with her breathing, get into a more relaxed frame of mind. I asked her to invite an image to come into her mind. She had some previous experience working with imagery so that made it easier. But I asked her to invite an image to come to mind that could give her some guidance in terms of what was most important to do. She got an image, she was outdoors woman. She was a very high level river kayaker. She had been a river guide before and had gone down some very challenging rivers all over the world and kayaks- very dangerous thing to do- thrilling.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah.

Dr. Rossman
She got this image of herself in a kayak, sort of at the top of a very challenging, very dangerous run that she had done in- somewhere in Asia, I believe or really dangerous rapids and rocks and so on and so forth. What she told me about that was that she said, when you are looking, when you are checking that out, that you've got this perilous run in front of you, you want to look at a view, be aware of all the various obstacles and dangers that you dont want to run into. But ultimately what you want to end up doing is to be able to see the line that you want to take that goes in between all of those dangers and comes out safer on the other side. Then when you push off and get yourself into this powerful flow of the river, you dont have very much leeway, you dont have much control but to control you have is very important. You want to keep your eye on that line that goes through the obstacles. She said, if you get kind of hypnotized and you are looking at that rock that you dont want to run into, thats what you are going to run into. Because your body's going to go where your eyes going so, the imagery itself only lasted a few minutes and then we talked about it and she said, the big danger for me is letting myself getting really overwhelmed by my emotions and getting depressed. I cant afford to get depressed about this. I have children to take care of. I have to find a way, I have to get through this legal process, I have to find a way to ensure our wellbeing and the fact that we can live and stay in our community and so on. I need to keep my eye on how I am going to come out the other side of this, where the outcomes going to be. Thats what she started to focus on. It doesnt mean that it was easy for her. It doesnt mean she didnt have times when she was emotionally bereft and overwhelmed and there was a detail work and lot of legal kinds of things [00:26:37] but it gave her a centering device. It gave her a touchdown she could come back to that and re-center herself in the course of it and also just in seeing that it was like that kind of run and that while it was dangerous and rough and there were going to be rough patches, she got the sense that she had the strength and the resources to come through it. That helped to sustain her as she went through that very difficult process.

MarySue Hansell
That seems to be a big part of this technique to actually go back to a time that you had that strength or courage or whatever it is and relate to it then bring it to the current situation. I think thats wonderful.

Dr. Rossman
Yeah. I always was confident. I think theres nine different process using techniques that I teach in the course of the Worry Solution and thats one important one.

MarySue Hansell
One good one.

Dr. Rossman
Thats one really good one but there is nine really good ones and some of them are more paper and pen kinds of things like writing your worries down and sorting them out, how to balance [00:27:48] that worry. Others are purely guided imagery that can get you in touch with your wisest self, get in touch with your strengths and qualities that could help you sustain through difficult time and turning the bad worry upside down and a positive outcome worry and so on. Theres different tools, Mary Sue for different jobs in a sense. What I found in the classes that this is based on because I did classes for a few years before I wrote the book to see what was really working well that, out of the 9 different techniques some people- they are all useful.

MarySue Hansell
Yes.

Dr. Rossman
But some people will find particular ones particularly useful for them at a particularly stressful or worrisome time in their life. Others will find the others particularly useful. Its kind of like eating at a buffet. You want to take a look at the thing and use the processes and use the techniques and use the perspectives that are most helpful for you.

MarySue Hansell
Well, I really like that one. How can purchase that CD that you mentioned?

Dr. Rossman
Its on amazon. Well, you can go the Worry Solution- amazon doesnt do a great job. It sorts of presents that a lot of people think its a book on tape or book on CD. Its not. Theres the paperback book, theres the kindle version of the book and then you can get the audio downloads from amazon or you can go to my website which is the healingminds.org and you can purchase the audio downloads from there or the CDs.

MarySue Hansell
Great. The holidays are coming up. They are right around the corner and I thought you might have some great advice for our listeners about how not to worry during this time. People always get so stressed out.

Dr. Rossman
Yeah. Its a very stressful time. Well, again the misnomer is that people often feel when they hear the Worry Solution: Dont worry, be happy and thats a nice piece of advice but its really not about not worrying. Its about not worrying about things you cant do anything about. Worrying more affectively about things you can do something about. Again, taking sometime to turn things over in your mind and thinking about maybe what you want to do, about gifts and who you want to give things to and what its going to be, doesnt necessarily have to be horrendously stressful. You can make choices about that. Its separating out between thinking and planning and problem solving. This kind of useless frightening, repetitive, habitual bad worry is really what the focus of the book is and theres just a lot of that. Again, it becomes a bad habit just because we are not mindful of it. This will elevate your awareness of- am using my mind effectively, I am solving problems that can potentially be solved. I am learning ways to release my tendency to worry about problems that really, I cant do anything about and put them into kind of a better position in my mind. It reduces the amount that you worry. It reduces the number of things you worry about and it makes you more effective when there are things- problems that you can solve. You are using a healthy process of worry so, the holidays are where we get under a lot of time pressure, the holidays theres a lot of decisions to be made, theres financial stresses, theres you know, trying to put the under the year details together, theres more social engagements, theres more staying up late and drinking and eating sweets and stuff and it can be a horrendously stressful time.

MarySue Hansell
Yes.

Dr. Rossman
Its supposed to be a celebratory time of the year. But using the processes that I teach, I think many people are able to cut that down. Part of the worry solution is listing the things that you are worried and thats a simple thing but it can be a very very helpful thing at this time of the year because you have a chance to look at that and a lot of times people look at those lists and they say well, I dont need to worry about that. I can take that off my list, right now. I can let go of that. I have choices that I can make. I think the biggest stress at the holidays or at any time, stress research shows that the heart is stressed for any organism, human or otherwise is the feeling of not having choice. Feeling of being- a lot of people, its time [00:32:51] you really get into this. I have to do this. I have to do that. I have to do that, I have to-- right, so and so I have to go that party even though I hate it. I have to do. A lot of the times when people take the time to write that down and take a look at it, take a couple of steps back, it turns out that you do have to make choices. Even if you make the same choices that you felt obligated to make, the very act of making a choice reduces the amount of stress. Because you say, I dont want to go this party that I think I better, I need to do it but choosing to go to it and I want to make the best of it. Is a very different attitude than I have to go to this thing.

MarySue Hansell
Yes. You dont feel like you are forced.

Dr. Rossman
You dont really have to go to it. There's a lot of ways to get out of it.

MarySue Hansell
I think that choice really helps to relieve all that stress and anxiety. Now Dr. Rossman, the question that I ask or I guess, every week and I like to ask of you is how do you hope the lessons learnt in the Worry Solution can help make the world a better place?

Dr. Rossman
Now thats a good question. Well, I think its one of the major- what I've seen by people working through the worry solution. I've been very pleased to see that there are real benefits for people that work through it and the benefits tend to be that they worry less. They dont drive themselves crazy and make themselves as often as they did before. They dont make the people around them stressed as much as they did before. They become more effective, more conscious human beings. They become able to make more choices in their life and to take responsibility more so, like I said before Mary Sue, the message of the book is not to worry. Because there are a lot of things to worry about.

MarySue Hansell
Right.

Dr. Rossman
Life has its challenges and we need to deal with those challenges. What its about is not making up stuff or becoming hypnotized by your own habit of going over and over and over all the things you dont want to have happened. If we just stopped driving ourselves crazy by the worry that we dont have to have, we would be calmer. We would be more conscious. We would be more responsible. We would be nicer to people around us. We would be easier to live with. Our health would be better. Its easier to be kinder when you feel better. I just cant help but feel that as every individual feels better in themselves that the world would become a better place.

MarySue Hansell
I definitely agree.

Raymond Hansell
And I do too. Hope for our listeners, you can find more about this amazing work of Dr. Rossman's by going the healingmind.org. Dr. Rossman thank you very much for joining us today in BetterWorldians radio.

Dr. Rossman
Thanks for inviting me.

Raymond Hansell
You are very welcome. BetterWorldians radio is brought to you by BetterWorldians foundation of 501 (c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best in everyone. In essence, we believe that its essential to plant flowers not just pull weeds. So, we focus on positive thinking. Positive values and positive actions. In short, our vision is to bring out the better worldian in everyone so that we can all make it a better world. But we certainly could use your help in the process. Donations support at our BetterWorldians radio podcast as well as go towards developing new features like articles, videos, blogs and more. If you were to join us, go to betterworldians.com and be part of this important mission. Until next time, every one please, be a better worldian. [Music]