Life can invariably drive us crazy. I’m no exception. When we allow life’s tribulations to get blown out of proportion, our worry, fear and anxiety wreck havoc on our quality of our life, our health, and relationships.

I’m no exception. When I recognize I’m in this state, it’s time to reread some of my favorite books. One I keep on my bookshelf is Dr. Richard Carlson’s, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and it’s all small stuff. The author focuses on not losing sight of the bigger picture. He states, “So many people spend so much of their life energy ‘sweating the small stuff’ that they completely lose touch with the magic and beauty of life.”

He believes in lowering our tolerance for stress, rather than increasing our tolerance. Why? “Our current level of stress will be exactly that of our tolerance to stress. As you lower your tolerance to stress, you will find that you’ll have far less stress to handle, as well as creative ideas for handling the stress that is left over.”

One way Carlson suggests lowering stress is living in the present moment so that we live our life with more peace. Contemplate as to how much of your own thought processes are about regrets with the past or looking forward . . . when life will be better?

The author writes, “We allow past problems and future concerns to dominate our present moments, so much so that we end up anxious, frustrated, depressed, and hopeless. On the flip side, we also postpone our gratifications, our stated priorities, and our happiness, often convincing ourselves that ‘someday’ will be better than today. Unfortunately, the same mental dynamics that tell us to look toward the future will only repeat themselves so that someday never actually arrives”. John Lennon once said, “Life is what’s happening while we’re busy making other plans.”

Now here’s Dr. Carlson’s advice . . . “In fact, no one has a guarantee that he or she will be here tomorrow. Now is the only time we have, and the only time that we have any control over. When our attention is in the present moment, we push fear from our minds. To combat fear, the best strategy is to learn to bring your attention back to the present. Mark Twain said, ‘I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.’ I don’t think I can say it any better. Practice keeping your attention on the here and now.”

He also challenges the readers to see life as a series of tests. When doing so, “each issue you face is an opportunity to grow, a chance to roll with the punches. Whether you’re being bombarded with problems, responsibilities, even insurmountable hurdles, when looked as a test, you always have a chance to succeed, in the sense of rising above that which is challenging you. If, on the other hand, you see each new issue you face as a serious battle that must be won in order to survive, you’re probably in for a rocky journey”.

Although worrying is a natural response and appropriate to a degree, the problem occurs when it becomes excessive and interferes with daily functioning. The American Psychology Association offers these tips to help manage fears, worries and anxiety:

? Talk with friends, loved ones, or a professional.

? When you feel afraid or anxious, identify the source and question whether your feelings are based on facts or assumptions.

? Substitute the thoughts reinforcing the worst case scenarios with more positive thoughts. Remember it’s called “worst” for a reason.

? Take deep and slow breaths from the diaphragm to help calm your mind and body.

? Physical activity distracts and is a stress reliever. A brisk walk, for example, will help increase oxygen circulation and relax tense muscles.

? Spend time praying or meditating, drawing from your spiritual beliefs.

? Visualize a relaxing experience from your past.

? Repeat a calming word or phrase such as “take it easy” or “relax”.

As I’ve gotten older, I seek and value peace in my life. That desire and the fact that I’m aware of the toll worry can take on my health keeps me interested in learning and practicing problem solving techniques. In short, I’m not always successful in seeing the bigger picture, but each day is a new opportunity to do better.

Mary Garza Cummings is a freelance writer. For comments, email