“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it,
then there is no need to worry.
If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.
There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Do any of you recall “duck and cover” from the 1950’s? Probably not. "Duck and cover" was supposed to provide a degree of protection against the effects of a nuclear explosion to people situated outside the radius of the nuclear fireball.

Along with the other children, I practiced it every day at school. We ducked under the desk and covered our heads with our arms. The idea of a nuclear bomb exploding scared the bloody hell out of me as well as others. We would then bring our fear home with us. Our fear infected our parents. I clearly remember my mother saying that it was just plain wrong to make us children worry. She was right.

But, why do we worry and what can we do about it?

In order to answer that, let’s time travel back some 200,000 years ago, when we find the earliest remains of humans. They were the first to have a brain similar to ours. It is here we discover the neocortex, the newest part of the brain which is responsible for higher functions like language, reasoning and, yes worry.

Back in time there was a very real purpose to worry and that was - survival! Tens of thousands of years ago worrying, apparently, did not result in crippling anxiety and stress. Worry was triggered when we were confronted with an immediate threat which had to be resolved.

A carnivorous animal looked at you with full intent of making you its dinner. You either eliminated the animal or ran away. Threat resolved. Stress disappeared. No worries. You and your family are extremely hungry. You did what you had to do to obtain food. You ate. Threat resolved. Stress disappeared. No worries. You are dehydrated and stressed because you haven’t had any water. You find water. Threat resolved. Stress disappeared. No worries.

Jump forward 200,000 years to the present for a peek at our brain. Alas, the neocortex has neither changed nor adapted to the constant bombardment of both real and perceived (mostly perceived) threats hammer us.

Long ago, the threats weren’t chronic because the problems weren’t chronic. Where the threats were once real and instantly solvable, the threats confronting us today are not immediately solvable. We are surrounded by uncertainty. With uncertainty comes worry and anxiety. Like “duck and cover,” you see no end to the threat

In David Brooks’ New York Times Op-Ed, “The Epidemic of Worry,” he notes that worry is circular. You start with a matter that cannot be immediate solved, like a health issue, not having enough money to retire or enough savings to send your children to college, or someone taking away what you do have, or losing someone you love.

It begins as a mild concern, but then fear invades the mind and worry captures the imagination. Taking on a life of its own, worry molds our thoughts into a continuous loop of disaster. Suddenly and unwittingly, we are viewing the world through a distorted lens.

Here’s the real downside: Worry destroys our enjoyment of the present and, because it is the cousin of fear, it narrows our perspective and drains our joy. As our anxiety grows so does our dismay and anger. We find ourselves snapping at the people we love and respect and lashing out at unexpected moments. We feel unhappy and discontent without an apparent reason and unable to enjoy the gifts we have. Worst of all, we lose hope for a better tomorrow. Anxiety changes us.


In my previous blog, Duck & Cover, I provided a short history lesson as to why we worry. Next, let’s take a look at how you can manage your thinking and mute your worry, now.

Worry without resolution is a total waste of the imagination.
Worrying is the imagination out of control.

The world doesn’t care if you are awash in anxiety. Since the world is not going to change, what can you do?

Here is the good news. You have the ability, right now, to stop worrying and reduce your anxiety. Every one of these 5 Strategies will help reduce your anxiety because each is based in the brain science of the imagination.


Studies show that bringing your worry into the spotlight, labeling it, and talking with someone you trust about your fear about health, finances, relationships, approval or work, instantly mutes the anxiety. Like letting air out of a balloon, bouncing your fear or worry off someone close to you, gives perspective, calms the mind and gives clarity to your thinking. This tip will set you up to take action!


Roy T. Bennett in The Light in the Heart writes: “Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”

This is a simple and powerful exercise that has worked hundreds of times with my clients: List everything you are worried about. Reread and cross out everything over which you have no control. Highlight what you do have control over.

Ask yourself, “What is one small action step I can take right now to start improving my present situation?”

Write it down! I.e. Make a call and reconnect with a friend. Take a short walk in nature. Cook one healthy meal. Learn one new thing today. Read a couple of articles in magazines. If you are computer savvy, subscribe to your favorite subjects on Flipboard or listen to TED talks on your favorite subject.


Worry freezes us into inaction. Inaction makes us worry even more! Those who get lost in high anxiety dislike taking action. Therefore, the most important solution to reducing anxiety and fear is to TAKE ACTION.

Consciously taking action takes us out of ourselves and reduces anxiety.
In Strategy #2 you identified those things over which you have control and pinpointed one single, small action step you can take now! Take it. If not now, when?


Catch yourself when you are worrying and, if you are alone, shout out: “STOP IT!” If you are in the company of others, say to yourself: “STOP IT!”

As ridiculous as this may sound, it works.


Here is a harsh fact. Worry is all about you and, if left unchecked, it can isolate you. Studies in brain science show that being isolated perpetuates worry.

Here’s some very good news. Studies in brain science prove that kindness triggers the reward system in our brain releasing dopamine. Dopamine is what gives us a natural high and triggers positive emotion. Kindness immediately reduces anxiety and halts worry, and it can infect others with joy.

Put these 5 Strategies into action now and change your brain for the better.

Here is a parting thought: Forget about “duck and cover.” Most things we worry about never happen.


Author's Bio: 

James Mapes is truly the embodiment of the Renaissance man: speaker, performer, coach, philosopher, clinical hypnotist, actor and writer. He delivers a message of unlimited possibilities, passion, love, fun and adventure. Mapes is a living example of the creativity of the human mind at work and his mission is to educated and entertain to show others how they can become masters of their own imagination!
James is a leading authority on the psychology of applied imagination, creativity, wellness, peak performance and leadership. He is the founder The Quantum Leap Thinking™ Organization and the creator of the Transformational Coach™.
As a recognized business speaker and performance coach, James has spoken to hundreds of public and private companies in more than 70 countries. His clients include financial institutions, software companies, the military, the healthcare industry, financial institutions, training and development divisions of large corporations and major non-profit organizations. Companies, associations, universities and business schools including - IBM Corporate, U.S. Coast Guard, Lockheed Martin and The Princeton Center for Leadership Training - have quoted Mapes in training manuals and textbooks.
In addition, his one-man hypnosis show, “Journey into the Imagination” and his mind-magic show “Master of the Imagination” have been presented at theatres, universities, Broadway and at Lincoln Center in Manhattan.
Mapes’ programs, IMAGINE THAT!: Igniting your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance, MIND OVER BODY: Harnessing Vision to Create a Wellness Strategy and TRUE LEADERSHIP: The Neuroscience of Effective Leaders have be presented in more than 70 countries.
His best-selling book, “Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owners’ Guide to the Mind” has been published in ten languages.
His newest book, “IMAGINE THAT: Igniting your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance” will be released Oct. 4, 2016
James Mapes presentations are personal, interactive and humorous. Above all, he creates results and makes a lasting difference in the energy level, commitment and productivity of each individual in his audience.
Go to www.jamesmapes.com sign up for our free monthly article and follow on Twitter, Also, LinkedIn and Facebook and visit www.masteroftheimaginaiton.com James is a weekly contributor to The Huffington Post & The Good Men Project.