How many of us dread a situation on first hearing about it? How many times do we form conclusions about how good or bad a situation will be days, months or even years in advance?

Whenever you find yourself dreading a situation in advance try these suggestions:

• What is the worst that can happen in this situation? Most of what we worry about never really happens, does it? So, when you catch yourself ruminating over possible results, actually take the time to think about the worst possible outcome. Write it down. Think about how you would deal with it, if the worst happened. Have a plan. Then, set it aside and quit worrying. If the worst happens, you are ready for it.

• How would the people I most respect act in this situation? If those people are readily available, call or email them and ask for advice. If you cannot get hold of them, imagine what they would say based on previous contacts with them. Use their advice or your estimate of it. Use it to help you develop a positive plan for the situation you are in that has caused you to worry.

• What are my alternatives? Often, when in a tense or stressful situation we get tunnel vision. We can only see the immediate challenge or threat. It is difficult to be positive or think of options beyond what immediately comes to mind. Find a way to take a short break to focus your attention. Be systematic in the way you look at the situation. Ask yourself questions that will help you think of several ways to approach solving the challenge. Write them down. Review them. Which have the most potential for helping you both, right now and in the future?

• Prepare a plan of action for the challenge you face. Accurately define the problem. What exactly requires action? What caused the problem? What techniques or options from your list make the most sense to try? What is your goal? What do you want the situation to be like after you have solved the problem?

• Act, do something! Until you begin, you cannot arrive at the end. By acting, you can test your ideas, options and plans. And, you can adjust if and as necessary as you work through the situation.

Now when an unpleasant or anxiety filled idea slips into your mind, you have a way to deal with it. And, the more you work with this approach, the easier and faster you’ll solve problems and release the anxiety. Try it. You will find confidence in its power to solve the uncomfortable.

Tim O’Brien writes continuing-education courses and presents seminars on stress management.

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