The Worry Solution Shares Helpful Elements of “The Serenity Prayer” and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

October 22, 2010  |  Uncategorized, depression, meditation, stress, worry
By Kenneth R. Pelletier, PhD, MD(hc)
The Worry Solution shares the same basic concept as the serenity prayer, which is a constructive tool for sorting out any problem – distinguishing between what can be changed and what needs to be accepted. The book takes this principle a step further and operationalizes how to constructively worry. In this way, The Worry Solution embodies the essence of cognitive behavioural therapy — a method of restructuring, rethinking, and re-experiencing a situation so that it becomes solvable, or if not solvable, then avoidable, or if not avoidable, then something to simply adapt to and learn to live with. As such, The Worry Solution offers very wise council.
My research has focused on the optimal health benefits of meditation, as a means of creating a harmony of body and mind. When we obsessively worry, what we perceive to be a problem is in fact a problem, and our bodies respond as though that problem is a real physical threat. All the fight/flight responses that characterize a physical threat (increase in blood pressure and heart rate, constrictions of blood vessels, increased gastrointestinal activity, muscular tension, increase in electrical activity in the brain, suppression of the immune system) happen, whether or not the threat is “real,” ie, physical. If we perceive a threat, our bodies respond accordingly.
The problem we face, however, may not be a real physical threat. Most often, in fact, our obsessive worry is about finance, job security, or interpersonal relationships — like conflict with another individual. It doesn’t matter what the worry is. If it is perceived to be threatening to our well-being, our bodies respond physically. The problem is that when there is no resolution to a problem, our physical response goes on and on and on, until that response itself becomes a problem. The increase in blood pressure becomes hypertension. The increase in heart rate becomes tachycardia. And so on.
Part of the practice of meditation is the act of disengaging — stepping back, for a few seconds initially and then for longer periods of time — from the automatic fight/flight response to a threat. Meditation helps us become increasingly able to determine what is or is not in fact a threat. Our bodies do not automatically go into red alert. Through avoiding the flight/fight response, we take a critical step toward optimizing our health and wellness.
There is a famous anecdote about William James, who was in a profound depression. He roused himself out of that depression by realizing that he had an infinitesimal moment between one depressing through and the next, and that in that infinitesimal moment, he could choose to not have the next thought be depressing. Through his mental shift in that infinitesimal moment, he successfully worked himself out of a very profound depression, long before there were any anti-depressant medications. That process is very similar to what I am talking about.
Recently the science community has come to understand that in addition to creating biochemical changes, dysfunctional worry profoundly affects our genetics. Our genetic code, we are discovering, is much more malleable and changeable in the short run than we ever believed was possible. Obsessive worries — negative responses to stress — actually can shorten the component of DNA that governs a person’s life expectancy. Under excess stress, this DNA component becomes shorter. So our DNA structure is literally changed by dysfunctional worry that does not lead to resolution but that instead leads to destructive changes in the body in biology.
By learning the “good worry” habits outlined in The Worry Solution, individuals can benefit from the positive attributes of worry (engaging their imagination to problem-solve a situation and turn it around) and prevent the negative attributes of worry (engaging their obsessive thoughts, thereby experiencing distress with no resolution). In essence, rather than telling us not to think about pink elephants, Dr. Rossman teaches us how to befriend them and put them to work for us.

Dr. Pelletier is a Clinical Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, as well as a Clinical Professor of Medicine in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco (UCSF). At the University of Arizona, Dr. Pelletier is Director of the Corporate Health Improvement Program (CHIP) which is a collaborative research program between CHIP and 15 of the Fortune 500 corporations.  He also is Chairman of the American Health Association and is a Vice President at Healthtrac Incorporated. Dr. Pelletier is the author of ten major books, including the international best seller Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer.

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