How to manage worry

How to manage worry

Worry is a worldwide issue. I have never met anyone who wishes they worried more. It’s always the other way around. I remember when I worked for the Probation service. We used this standard questionnaire with each new client and one of the questions was: “Do you worry and overthink?” I NEVER had a person answer “No” to that question and I interviewd hundreds of people and asked them to fill in that questionnaire. It just shows you how widespread worry is.

Worry is our enemy. It reduces quality of life and creates untold angst, anxiety and depression for many of us. I have often wished that I had an ‘off switch’ for my worries. Allocating a specific time to worry can be useful. Say you decide that you will allow yourself to worry between 5-6pm each day. During the rest of the day, you will notice worries coming in to your mind. You won’t be able to stop them but try not to pay them too much attention. Say something to yourself like: “There I go again, I am worry and trying to find certainty. I will write this worry down and think about it between 5-6pm”. What you will find is that when your worry time comes around you might not even want to worry about that issue. This is good practise for dismissing worries and not allowing worry to hi-jack your focus.

The difference between real and hypothetical worry

If it’s a real worry you should be able to do something about it. For example – your car gets a flat tyre. You could find a service that could fix it. This is a real problem. A hypothetical problem is often based in the future, often a “what if” worry that we can’t solve in the present moment.

Intolerance of uncertainty

Intolerance of uncertainty is associated with people overestimating that future events will be negative and feeling that they will not be able to cope if the worst happens. We can never have 100% certainty in life, so the only way we can reduce anxiety is to increase our tolerance of uncertainty and the only way to do this is by INCREASING uncertainty in our lives.

STAGE 1 – Areas of my life that are really important to me

First of all, try and think about five or so areas that are really important to you right now. Although they are likely to be different for everyone, examples of such areas may include things related to areas such as family, relationships, roles and responsibilities, social and leisure activities, health, finances or religious beliefs. Thinking about areas of life of importance to you can help you prioritise problems to focus on solving in these areas.

STAGE 2 – What are my worries?

What is the situation you are worried about? For example: “A project at work”; “My partner travelling long distances for work”.

 What thoughts are you having? For example, “What if I don’t do a good enough job?”, “What if I don’t make the deadline”, “What if my partner has an accident on the way to work?”

 What do you fear might happen? What would be the consequence? For example: “I’ll get sacked” or “My partner might die”.

 What emotions are you feeling? For example: ‘Anxious’, ‘Fearful

STAGE 3 – Types of worries I am experiencing

Write down three types of worry:

Not important – let these go. This may be difficult but if it isn’t importany try not to dwell on thoughts that don’t serve you and only make you anxious.

Important and can be solved – problem solve. Decide what to do and action the plan.

Important and can’t be solved – It can be difficult not to worry about our worries, even when they are hypothetical and can’t be solved. Whilst it’s important to try and “let go” of these hypothetical worries this can be easier said than done!

STAGE 4 – Worry Time

Worry Time is a technique to help you stop being a slave to your worries as they occur throughout the day, and instead manage them better by scheduling specific time to dedicate to worrying about them. Scheduling a specific time to worry can help you regain control over your worry. People often report finding 20 minutes is enough, although when you get started you’ll be the best judge of the amount of time you’ll need to schedule your Worry Time.

Sometimes people may also find it helpful to look at the specific situation they’re worrying about to help decide whether a worry has a practical solution. For example, you may worry about things such as “I haven’t paid my electric bill” and then “What if the electric gets cut off?” then leading to “What if I can’t cook for my children?” Whist these are “What if?” worries, the situation you are worrying about is something you could do something about – it is a problem that is practical and can be solved. Another example might be, “What if I don’t make my work deadline?” Here, the specific situation you are worrying about is a work deadline, and there may be a specific plan you could put in place to achieve it.

Worry Time can also be used for worries that are not important, but those you are still struggling to ‘let go’. It’s all about getting used to delaying worry and thereby feeling more in control of your worry.

Using Worry Time takes time and practice. However, over time you may find this a useful technique to reduce the impact of your worries on a day-to-day basis. As you begin to use Worry Time more often you may also find yourself being able to reduce the amount of time you schedule each day for Worry Time. Over time you may not need Worry Time at all, but this is something you should look to work towards.

After writing down the worry:

Once you’ve written the worry down, try to refocus again on whatever you were doing at the time. Sometimes however, if you’re struggling to refocus it may help to do something different to what you were doing before. Remember, you have set aside worry time later so try to “let the worry go” for now. You’re not ignoring it, just delaying it until Worry Time when you can give it your full attention!

Top tips for refocusing

 Remember you have your scheduled Worry Time later.

 Pay attention to the present. For example, the task or activity you were doing when the worry came into your mind.

 If you find paying attention to the present difficult, concentrate on the task you were doing by using your senses. For example, what can you see, smell, hear, touch or taste? If you are cooking, focus on the smell of the food, or the sound of the food cooking.

 If you find re-engaging in the task you were doing too difficult, you might find it helpful to switch to a new task entirely.

 

Using Worry Time takes time and practice. However, over time you may find this a useful technique to reduce the impact of your worries on a day-to-day basis. As you begin to use Worry Time more often you may also find yourself being able to reduce the amount of time you schedule each day for Worry Time. Over time you may not need Worry Time at all, but this is something you should look to work towards.

STAGE 5 – Problem Solving

Problem Solving helps you deal more effectively with practical problems you experience in life and may be worrying about. Providing you with a structured way to think about different practical solutions that may exist to help solve your problems and stop them causing you to worry.

Sometimes when people are trying to find a practical solution to their worries they may find themselves slipping into using worry behaviours. For example, reassurance seeking or over-preparing and planning. You might want to consider asking yourself “Am I putting this solution in place to plan for the unknown?”

Many worries we experience have a practical solution. However, at times when you’re experiencing lots of different worries it may seem they are simply too difficult and overwhelming to solve. Following these seven steps will provide a structured way to help you find practical solutions to these.

Identify the worry, identify a solution – When trying to identify a practical solution to our worries it’s really important to make sure the solution doesn’t involve using some of those worry behaviours. For example reassurance seeking, over-preparing, over-planning, repeatedly checking, putting important things off, distracting yourself from your worries. Using these behaviours to try and solve your worries won’t help you learn to live with uncertainty and help you get out of the vicious cycle of worry in the long-term. Remember to ask yourself “Is my solution a long-term solution to my worry?” You may find worry behaviours are short-term solutions, but they won’t help solve and overcome your worries in the longer-term.

Cinsider too, your strengths and weaknesses when problem solving to allow for the solution to be as successful as possible.

Plan the solution – write down the steps to solve the issue.

Try out the solution and review how it went. Was it successful?

Sometimes, you may find that you’ve identified problems that seem too big or overwhelming to solve. This is normal and to be expected, especially if they are problems you’ve been looking to solve for some time. One way of helping with problems that seem too big or overwhelming is to look at breaking them down. For example, you may be experiencing difficulties paying the mortgage. When breaking down a difficulty with finance, think about the different components such as how much debt you have, what your income and what your expenditure is. Sometimes with problems such as this, it’s also worth thinking if there are others with specialist knowledge who can help. For example, professionals with this specific type of knowledge or organisations and charities in the community that may be able to help.

Keeping problem solving records is essential for you and anyone supporting you, to review your progress and help overcome any difficulties.

What signs and symptoms may indicate you’re experiencing excessive and uncontrollable worry again?

Make a note of the signs that you may be worrying too much again. Identify – thoughts, feelings, behaviours and any physical symptoms that may be reappearing.

Put together a: My Stay well kit

What activities helped you to feel better?

What skills have I learned through delaying worry, identifying the difference between real and hypothetical worry, writing down worries and problem solving?

Worry is a constant companion for many of us but you can learn to keep it in its place and  not allow it to hi-jack you all the time. Think of it as an inner bully – it can try to make you fearful but you don’t have to listen to it.

Mandy X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash