Three strategies for dealing with useless worry
– a cognitive therapy approach.
Some people find the following strategies helpful for reducing pointless and upsetting worry.
1. Thought Stopping
Thought stopping is designed to be used when you find yourself worrying about the same issue again and again. It should only be used if the worry is pointless. If your worrying is actually giving you solutions to the problem, then you might want to keep doing it. The technique takes a fair bit of practice to learn. Here’s the sequence:
a) Pick a time when you can be undisturbed at home for a couple of hours.
b) Sit down and deliberately start worrying. This may be harder than you think. You should choose an issue that bothers you but not one that will send you into deep depression or make you think about harming yourself.
c) Once you begin to feel worried do three things: stand up, clap your hands once and shout “stop!” you will feel quite silly doing this but do it anyway. You should notice that the worry stops for a bit.
d) The moment you notice yourself worrying again (probably only a few seconds later) stand, clap and shout “stop!” again. Keep repeating this. Eventually you should notice that the worry takes longer and longer to come back. At this point clap and shout without standing. After a while stop clapping; just shout.
e) Finally stop shouting. Instead picture a large stop sign in your head and imagine yourself shouting “STOP”. Now you can have other people around again. Over the next few weeks make a point of imagining the sign and the shout whenever you catch yourself worrying about the topic. If you like you can wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it (gently) against the skin at the same time. Then shift your mind onto some other topic. With time you can become very effective at halting periods of pointless worry.
2. Worrying Time
Worrying time is designed to help you stop worrying about problems for most of the day by saving all of your worrying for a particular time. This can be easier than stopping the worrying altogether. As well you may have to think about some of your worries in order to decide what to do about them. Here’s the strategy;
a) Pick a time during the day or week when you will sit down and think about the things that have been worrying you. You probably don’t need to do this every day but more than once a week would be a good idea. Set aside a maximum of 30 minutes when you will not be distracted.
b) Carry a pen and paper (index cards work well) with you at all times. When you catch yourself worrying, make a note of the topic. Assure yourself that you will think about the issue but not right now. Shift your mind onto something else.
c) When it is time to worry, take out your list of topics and consider each of them in turn. With some topics you may find that you can actually come up with a solution or a decision about how to handle them. Others you may just worry about. This strategy may sound a bit odd but it is amazingly helpful if you are disciplined about carrying it out.
3 . Worry Inflation
We frequently try to minimize our fears. Worry inflation uses the opposite approach: making the problems as big as possible. Why? Because if you exaggerate many fears they eventually become ridiculous. You find that you can’t really believe that things will get that bad, and the problem shrinks down to realistic proportions. Here’s the strategy:
a) First identify the disturbing thought you want to deal with.
b) Next decide whether inflating the worry will make it seem silly or will only make it seem worse.
c) If it looks like a good topic for worry inflation, exaggerate the disturbing thought out of all proportion. Imagine the most extreme consequences possible. For example: “If I phone my old friend she won’t remember me. She will tell the police she has had a nuisance caller. They will trace the call and arrest me. I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail”. The more extreme the worry gets; the less you may believe in it and the less that thought will be able to bother you in the future.