Suppose someone invited you to spend time today clasping the positive and negative terminals of your car battery – just for the pain of it. Just so you can feel the jolt and watch the shower of sparks. I doubt there would be many takers. The shock would ruin your day, and possibly your battery.

Most people have no appetite for such self-torture, at least not in such an overt form. They prefer the veiled variety: worry. For millions, it's the misery of choice.

Worry strips away the joys of today. It reaches into the unforeseeable future and takes out a loan on trouble – trouble that may or may not occur. "He who fears what he may suffer," says an old proverb, "already suffers what he fears." And what he or she fears usually doesn't even come to pass, making the suffering of worry entirely gratuitous.

Of course, most worriers admit that there is no logic in worry. But they feel powerless to shut it off. Like water from a broken pipe, the worry just gushes as they look on. Such passivity, however, is self-defeating and deceptive. We can do something. And while we may not be able to halt worry entirely (being human), there are strategies we can employ to reduce its hold on our lives.

One mental habit helpful in managing worry is to consistently envision our lives as a series of 24-hour episodes, and focus our energies on the particular episode we're starring in at the time. It involves a conscious decision to restrict our anxious care only to that block of time between sunrise and bedtime. Of course, that doesn't preclude planning and considering future problems. But it does mean that we learn to live most of our lives in the present tense, where we can actually do something about the problems that face us.

Dale Carnegie, in his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, writes of the eternity behind us and the one before us – the past and the future – and our inability to live in either. Today is where we are, and the present is what we should busy ourselves with. Life is a journey of 24 hours today. Then 24 tomorrow, and so on.

You've probably heard this illustration, but it bears repeating: Imagine that a housewife or househusband could see the mountain of dishes that would ultimately need washing throughout all of life. Think of how that person would sink into despair after seeing all the dirty dishes of the future piled up in a one towering stack alongside the Washington Monument.

"Do all this? How will I ever be able to get it done?" The answer, of course, is one sink's worth at a time, one day at a time. Broken down thus, the task is not nearly so daunting. And that is the attitude we must cultivate about life in general. "Each day," said Jesus of Nazareth in his Sermon on the Mount, "has enough trouble of its own."

The objection here is almost immediate: "I just don't look at life that way." Granted, such a perspective doesn't come naturally for a lot of people. For most of us, it's a learned discipline. Similarly, golfers learn to keep the head down when they swing. It doesn't come automatically, it must be acquired through habit – doing it the right way over and over until it becomes second nature. That's the way we install most of our skills: riding a bicycle, typing, driving a stick shift, etc. Learning to view life from a healthier vantage point is no different.

But some worriers are in a deeper hole than others. Those who struggle with anxiety tend to have acute worry problems. They develop a kind of "mental itch," a compulsion to visit and revisit matters, to turn them around and overanalyze them. When a worry comes to mind, they feel uncomfortable leaving it alone. But the analysis almost never resolves the worrisome thought. On the contrary, it only deepens the anxiety.

So what can they do? Well, they can grit their teeth, ignore the "itch" and tell themselves they simply won't ever think about the troubling thought that has intruded into their consciousness. But it won't work. There is too much mental discomfort in trying to disregard a given worry forever and ever. It's too ambitious a program.

Edna Foa and Reid Wilson, in their book Stop Obsessing!, outline a more effectual strategy: Tell yourself you won't think about the troubling concern now, but that you will do so later. Set an appointment with yourself to think about the concern. Give yourself a set amount of time to analyze it. Then be done with it.

The mental dialog goes like this: This worry really troubles me right now. And it may warrant my consideration. But I'm not going to analyze it right now. I'll set aside some time at 10:30 a.m. – say, 10 or 15 minutes -- to hash this thing out. That's about an hour from now. I can hang in there for an hour of not analyzing it.

Chances are, when 10:30 comes, that particular worry won't have the emotional stranglehold over you that it did the moment it entered your mind. It will have dissipated significantly. You may not even feel you need to keep the appointment at all, and that's fine. Let it go.

If we don't let it go, we may have something much more significant to worry about – something warranted and real. It's a life wasted on worry, an existence devoid of energy and joy. And worse yet, it's the shipwreck of our health. Physicians will testify to the damage worry can do to the heart, immune system and general well-being.

So let's turn from the future ills that may or may not beset us and turn to the real task at hand -- living our lives today, engaging the challenges of this 24-hour block of time. If we don't, we may be limiting the number of tomorrows we have left.

Author's Bio: 

Steve Jones is a former newspaper editor living in the Atlanta area.