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4 Steps to Better Manage Worry

Okay, most of us worry from time to time. In fact, reports indicate around 2 out 5 people get caught up in worry at least once a day. Worry is like a form of verbal/visual mental consideration about something that might happen in the future

… what if I’m late?
… what if I lose my job?
… what if the kids get sick?
… what if they don’t like me? … and so on.

Common worry usually has a short lifespan and can trigger proactive problem solving. However, worry becomes unhelpful and a problem when it’s frequent, intense, hard to control, and is about many aspects of daily life. Ongoing worry fuels anxiety and breeds more worries which then makes it incredibly tough to effectively think through a situation and take positive action.

Keep in mind that we often get better at what we practice … so, if we spend a lot of time worrying, we can get really good at it. We actually train our brain to find things to worry about and to focus on those worries instead of anything else!

If you’re interested in trying something a little bit different with your worries and learning a new skill, here’s a well-researched strategy that’s worth practicing. It may seem strange at first but give it a chance and maybe agree to try it out for a week before deciding if it’s useful for you or not. With time and practice, it usually gets easier, people experience an improved sense of control, and can effectively manage their worries with less structure.

4 Steps to Better Manage Worry

1) Schedule It

Literally set up a regular place, time, and duration to hang out with your worries. (e.g., study, 6:30pm, 20 minutes). If helpful, let others know what you’re doing so you won’t be disturbed and it can become part of your household routine. Maybe set a reminder alarm for both the start and finish time for worry. Also aim to have a self-soothing or other pleasurable activity scheduled for the end of your worry time (e.g., listen to your favourite music, take a shower/bath, go for a walk, family dinner).

2) Name It

Get used to recognising the early start of worry and call it for what it is as soon as possible. For example, “Okay, I’m starting to feel wound up and I’m worrying again”.

3) Postpone It

Remind yourself to postpone worry until your scheduled worry time. Maybe saying something like, “Thanks mind for reminding me of all that. Not helpful right now. I’ll pick it up at 6:30”. Then as best possible, keep bringing your attention back to the task at hand.

Note: A few people I’ve worked with were genuinely upset when they got to their worry time and forgot what they were worried about through the day! So if that’s a potential issue, when postponing worry, simply write down a couple of words to later remind you.

4) Deal with It

At the scheduled worry time, reflect on the day’s worries … only on the ones that seem relevant and only if you think it’s useful to do so! If you choose to worry, it’s helpful to write your thoughts down on paper as it slows down the worry, helps process the material, and allows you to look at it more objectively. When possible, consider what can be done to improve the situation you’re worried about.

When your time’s up, you again start postponing worries until the next day.

Most people I share this strategy with are surprised at their ability to postpone worry. The strategy has helped me through the years and hopefully helps make a positive change for you or someone you know. Feel welcome to share your experiences here in the comments section.

If worry and associated anxiety is of greater concern, please consider the following additional information. 

Problematic worry can be part of a bigger issue related to Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This is characterised by a minimum of six months with more often than not:

  • struggles with anxiety or worries about a lot of different things,
  • excessive and seemingly uncontrollable worry,
  • trouble focusing on tasks and, 

 also bothered by at least 3 of the following symptoms: 

  • feeling restless, keyed up, on edge & unable to relax, 
  • feeling tired or exhausted easily, 
  • trouble concentrating or mind often going blank, 
  • irritability,
  • physical tension,
  • difficulty sleeping.

If you have concerns for yourself or someone else, please consult with your GP or a mental health practitioner.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is the recommended psychological treatment for generalised anxiety. Typically, a treatment program would consist of developing relaxation strategies, techniques for dealing with unhelpful thoughts, challenging worries, and letting them go. Problem solving strategies, dealing with uncertainty, and being more present focused are also important aspects for promoting positive change.

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