Taming Your Worry

If you’re like me after a difficult situation of being criticized or blamed, I continue to think about it. If I don’t take steps such as talking with a friend, using mindfulness meditation to further calm my distressed nervous system or do some exercise to rid my body of the physiological reaction, it turns into a pattern of worry and thinking that cannot be shut off. Here is a technique I have used and recommended to my clients that can help you contain and reduce the impact of constantly worrying about things. Optimal benefit from the approach comes from regular, consistent practice over a few week period.

Step 1. Create a Worry Period

Pick a convenient time period, 20 to 30 minutes, and place at the same time each day. Ensure it is a place that is separate from your usual daily routine. Assign it for the worry period only. For example if you usually sit in your living room chair, perhaps go to a chair in your dining room. The point is to associate this time and location with your intention to worry.

Step 2. Postpone Your Worry

Carry a small notebook with you. When a worrying thought or feeling comes up, quickly jot it down. Then remind yourself that this worry will be addressed in the worry period when you have time and are in a better position to address it, that at this moment there are things that need your focus and attention. Shift your focus to what you are doing in the present moment, using mindfulness to assist you. Take immediate action to do something practical, positive, pleasant, active or nurturing. Worry is a persistent adversary, so gentle persistence measures are needed to counteract it.

Step 3. The Worry Period.

When your worry period arrives, settle yourself down and take some time to reflect on your day and the worries you had written down. Some things to keep in mind while doing this are to worry about things from your list if you feel you must. You do not need to worry about things that are on your list if they no longer bother you. If things from your list continue to worry you, ensure that you spend no longer that your planned worry time. It may be helpful to write down your worries at this time.

Step 4. Choose what you have control over

Toward the end of the worry period, look at your list of worries and divide them into two categories. Identify those over which you have some control or agency. Write the letter C beside them. Then identify those over which you have no control. Write the letters NC beside them. For example if your list includes worry about a work deadline, your boss’s treatment of you, how your coworkers think about you and the traffic on your ride home. You have most control over the steps toward the work deadline, but not the actual date. You have no control over your boss’s treatment of you, what your coworkers think about you or the traffic. In all of these you do have agency over how you respond to these things.

Step 5. Change What You Can Control

When you have selected what you do have control over, make a list of three things that you will do going forward to feel better about how you are dealing with the situation, even if there are things you have no control over.

Worry postponement may seem like a strange thing to do. It may seem like an effort to carry around a notepad to write down your worries during the day and schedule worry time. To start a new habit, it is important to do these things, but with this effort over time you will be able to do it more effectively. You may be surprised at how well you are able to do this even if you think you are not able to do so.

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