We all find ourselves worrying about one thing or another from time to time. Worry is not always a bad thing as it can be helpful. It can help us to adjust to change, to solve problems, and also to increase our motivation to get things done.
Worry becomes a problem when it persist and we keep at it for long periods of time. Also when the topic of the worry is outside of our control.
What is Worry?
Let’s start off by defining worry. Worry is the process of thinking about something excessively. This may be about the future, loved-ones, finances, employment, health, or relationships.
Worry is the brain’s way of preparing you for whatever might happen in the future. When adaptive - that is, helping you to adjust to change - it can prepare you for a future event in a beneficial way. When maladaptive, it can become difficult to control and persist for long periods of time, which increases anxiety.
Worrying can interfere with our lives and overall mental well-being. It can easily become a bad habit which can be rather challenging to break. Once you have caught the worry bug, everything seems to become a great topic of worry. Even worry itself!
Does Worry Prevent Bad Things From Happening?
It is not uncommon for people to believe that worrying prevents bad things from happening in their lives. They have taken the time to prepare for all possible scenarios, both good and bad. Furthermore, it is also common for people to feel that by preparing for the worst, they will not be surprised if something bad does happen.
Worrying is our brain’s way of trying to prevent unpleasant surprises from happening and gain control over possible outcomes of various life events/stressors. However, most of the content of our worries is not something we can think away.
For example, a loved one is coming to visit and you start worrying that they will get into a car accident on their way to seeing you. You can worry about this all you want, but you are not the one driving the car and therefore, you have no control over the outcome. Thinking this way is only creating anxiety and keeping you stuck in a worry cycle. This is also an example of a very situation specific worry and once your loved one arrives, the worry will go away.
Why Not Worry When it’s Convenient For You?
What if I told you that you can STOP letting worry rule your life and take back control over your thoughts and emotions?
What if I told you that you actually have more control over your worries than you give yourself credit for? What if I told you that you can learn to postpone your worries and revisit them later when it is convenient for you? The solution I propose is to create a worry period.
What is a Worry Period?
A worry period is a designated time that you set aside regularly to allow yourself to work through your worries. You have control over when and where this happens. Postponing your worrying until it is convenient for you will give you a better sense of control over your worry. It will help you to manage it more effectively and efficiently.
The goal is to use this time strategically and to commit to not worrying for the remainder of your day. Wouldn’t that be nice - being worry free for most of your day?
Here is how you go about creating a designated worry period.
Step 1: Plan Your Designated Worry Period
To start off, you want to pick a time, duration, and place during which you will give yourself permission to worry.
Time: You should try and keep this time consistent from one day to the next. I highly recommend making it early enough in the day so it does not interfere with your sleep. I suggest making it between 11 am and 6 pm.
This will be the ONLY time of the day during which you will allow yourself to work through your worry-based thoughts. The remainder of your day will be worry free.
Duration: The length of your worry period is totally up to you. I recommend keeping it on the shorter side - no longer than 30 minutes. Sometimes you might use up the entire designated time period and other times you will not.
If you find that you don’t have a lot of content to worry about, that is fine. Don’t make stuff up to worry about. Just save that worry time for another day.
If you find that you don’t have enough time to go over all your worries, keep the list handy for the following day. You can revisit your worries then.
Location: Location is everything. You want to be very strategic with where you choose to have your worry period. Pick a space that is as neutral as possible and which you don’t associate with calm and relaxation.
For example, sitting on your bed in your bedroom is a terrible place to go over all your worries. Your bedroom should be off limits as you don’t want this room to become associated with all your worries. The last thing you want is to start associating a calm space with all your mental clutter. I recommend taking a chair and putting it in a corner of a room which you rarely use, the basement, or the hallway.
Step 2: Keep an Ongoing List of Your Worries
Throughout the day, keep an ongoing list of the different worries that come up for you. The goal of this list is to help prevent you from starting to worry about forgetting your worries - ironic, right? - as this defeats the purpose of this exercise.
Writing your worries down in the notes section of your phone or on a good old piece of paper will allow you to store this information away for later. Also, by writing down your worries you are getting them out of your head, and this in and of itself can be helpful and therapeutic. They might very well lose their power the second they hit the paper or your phone.
Step 3: Go Over Your Worry List During Your Worry Period
Now that you have the logistics for your worry period set up and your list of worries, the final step is to start working on solutions for your worries, if any exist.
During your designated worry time, you will go over the list of your worries.
You may notice some of the worries no longer bother you. This is great - cross them off. For example, you may have worried about what you will cook for dinner, but now that dinner is over, it no longer applies. Maybe you were worried about a conversation you were going to have with your boss, but it went well and it is over and done with now. Take time to reflect on any lesson you may have learned now that these worries no longer have a hold on you. This could be extremely eye opening.
What about the remaining worries on your list? During the rest of your worry period, go over the items on your list that still result in worry. Sometimes, you may need to challenge the thought itself because it is not helpful. At other times, you may be able to engage in some problem-solving.
An important question to ask yourself is whether the worry itself is solvable or unsolvable.
If the worry is solvable, start the brainstorming process to come up with a possible solution.
If the worry is not solvable, then you usually need to do some thought work to challenge this unhelpful pattern.
Note that there are some worries that will remain no matter how much time you spend reflecting on them during your worry period. For example, parents will always worry about their children. This is a normal part of being a parent. You want your kids to succeed and do well. You don’t want anything bad to happen to them. These worries will most likely not be solved in a worry period. With that having been said, if they are extreme in nature and impact your life and well-being negatively, it may be worth exploring them with a trained professional.
How a Worry Period Can Help You
Scheduling a daily worry time can help to decrease your anxiety. It is also a great way to help you let go of your worries and push them aside until it is convenient for you to explore them. Oftentimes, the act of pushing worries aside for later gives you enough separation from the worry itself that, when you go back to revisit it, it no longer has the same impact.
Creating a worry period is not the only way to gain control over your thoughts. For more ideas and strategies to help manage your anxiety more effectively, please visit my previous blog posts The Many Sides of Anxiety and Worry Vs Noise: Sorting Your Thoughts .
Call our clinic today at 613-877-4148 to connect with a trained professional who can help you navigate your healing and recovery process.