How to be happy: Set aside specific times to think about the future

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'I'm so busy dreading events on the horizon that it's preventing me from enjoying the present. These events are usually work-related and are never as bad as I think they are going to be, but dreading them has become an automatic reaction and it is ruining my life.' J.

Step 1: We can bring relief to dread- inducing thoughts by confronting and questioning habitual dysfunctional thinking, creating instead a constructive, nurturing internal dialogue. Ask yourself these four key questions: What evidence is there to support your worry? Look for evidence that both supports and refutes your current thinking; you are aiming for a realistically balanced view. Is there an alternative explanation? There are always different perspectives that are more helpful. What is the worst that could happen and can you live through it? We often over-dramatise events, which are rarely life-threatening. Finally, what is the best possible conclusion? This will help direct your thinking to a more balanced and realistic outcome.

Step 2: If you still find yourself worrying uncontrollably about future events, another technique is to set aside some "worry time". Making time to worry feels counter-intuitive if you are trying to minimise negative thinking, but worry breaks provide a structured way of managing and controlling the amount of time you spend ruminating. Write your preoccupations down in a worry log. Setting aside time which is both regular and time-limited places your thoughts in perspective. You will begin to see that these are only troublesome thoughts, not facts. Practised regularly, you will find that your anxieties will lose the power to frighten you. Reviewing the worry log will also help you acknowledge that most of your concerns haven't arisen and even if they have, you will have survived them.

Step 3: We all need reminding that both the past and the future are places that do not exist in reality and that what is real is now. The energy we have invested in staying attached to our anxieties could be used more constructively in engaging spontaneously with the present moment, lifting our mood and raising our self-esteem. The more consideration we can offer ourselves, the more we can see we are doing our best, even when it feels as though our best is not enough.

Cecilia is Mind journalist of the year. If you would like her to answer your problems email her at c.dfelice@independent.co.uk

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