Updated: Aug 28, 2020
We often spend time fighting against our worries or telling ourselves to stop worrying. This is unhelpful. It can cause us to feel worse, and to worry even more! Worry is a part of our lives. It cannot be avoided.
We can prevent ourselves from worrying too much by learning how to manage our worries.
This article will introduce you to three techniques to help you to manage your worries.
Worry Time - for practical and hypothetical worries
Problem Solving - for practical worries
Living in the Present - for hypothetical worries
A technique to manage both practical and hypothetical worries
When we're worrying, we might tell ourselves to stop. But doing this is unlikely to work. It’s like telling yourself not to think of a yellow triangle. It makes it almost impossible not to think of a yellow triangle.
A more useful way to manage worry is to set aside time specifically for worrying. Take ten minutes on a regular basis, where your only task is to worry. We call this our “worry time”.
How to set up your “worry time”
Set aside a ten-minute period once or twice a day, at a regular time. Schedule worry times in advance and put them in your diary. Choose a time when you can devote all of your attention to thinking about what is worrying you.
To make worry times work, it is important to write down your worries and concerns during the day. Writing worries down on paper helps make them clear. Many people find the act of taking worries out of the heads and putting them onto a piece of paper to be comforting.
What to do during your “worry times”
Categorise the worries you have written down into hypothetical worries and practical worries. Remember, a practical worry is something that you have some control over. A hypothetical worry is something that you have no control over. It may not ever happen in reality. Note that sometimes different aspects of a worry can be in different categories.
Brainstorm different solutions or actions you might take to deal with any practical worries you have some control over.
Think about how you would like to respond to the worries that you have no control over. How can you let go, learn to accept, or live with aspects you cannot change?
Make a plan to use to address both the controllable and uncontrollable worries.
Finish worry time - Once you have made a plan, make sure to end “worry time”.
Worry time requires commitment. If you decide to postpone a worry until your next scheduled worry time, it is very important that you carry out that worry time. You may feel that you are not able to fit 'worry times' into your schedule at the moment. That’s ok. Just keep an idea in mind for the future, when it might prove useful. Make sure that you spend the full ten minutes worrying, even if this means repeating worries over and over. Repeating worries can often take the power out of them.
Life can be difficult at times, and it is likely that we will have one or more worries that we do need to do something about. These are what we call practical worries. Sometimes these can seem too difficult to deal with. We can feel overwhelmed. We might try to fight off these worries or forget these problems. Unfortunately, in the long-term, this can make the problem even worse.
For example, you might be worried that your washing machine has been leaking for a few weeks. The thought of trying to fix it yourself seems too hard. The thought of calling out a workman to look at it makes you worry about the cost. Because it all feels overwhelming, you choose to ignore it and do nothing. In the short term, you might feel better because you haven’t had to deal with the problem. But then, two weeks later, you come home from work to find the kitchen flooded. This is an example of how ignoring practical worries can make things worse in the longer term.
Problem solving helps us to define exactly what we are worrying about, and it helps us to work out the best way of dealing with a problem in a simple step-by-step way.
Problem solving involves the following steps:
· Define the problem.
· Think of as many solutions as possible no matter how silly they may seem.
· Consider the pros and cons of each solution.
· Choose a solution to try.
· Plan how you are going to implement the chosen solution.
· Carry out the solution.
· Review how it went. Were there any problems? Was it the right solution to choose? What did you learn?
Living In The Present
When we are worried, we spend much of our time thinking about what might happen in the future. When we do this, we miss out on what is happening in the here and now. One of the best ways to reduce worrying thoughts is to pay more attention to the present moment.
For example, if you are worrying about what other people think of you, you may find that, during a conversation with a friend, you become very distracted by thoughts like “I have nothing to say” or “I bet she thinks I’m boring.” During this time, you are not truly taking in what your friend is saying. You are not likely to do well in a conversation when you have not paid enough attention to what is being said.
How do I do this?
Observe and listen
Try to not react to the worry. Instead, observe the worry and listen with interest to what it is about.
Visualise the worry as a transitional thought, much like a passing cloud or wave on a beach, which comes and goes.
Focus on the here and now
Focus on your breathing, and any physical sensations you are currently feeling. Notice your feet on the floor or details of your surroundings.
Deal with a wandering mind
It is normal for your mind to wander back to whatever it is you were worrying about. If you notice this, just return your attention back to the present again and refocus. Do this as often as you need to!
Practice makes perfect
This can be difficult at first, but keep practising and it should get easier. Later we will look at a specific Staying in the Present exercise that may help you practise.
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