Set Up an Appointment with Yourself for Worrying
Many experts and books on the subject of anxiety recommend that we set aside time each day to devote to worrying. In The Worry Trick, Dr David A Carbonell describes how to make these worry times much more effective.
The following is an amended extract from Chapter 10 of The Worry Trick – ‘Your Daily Worry Workout’.
Worry appointments are designed to tackle those persistent, unwelcome worries which are not of any use to you—chronic "what if" worries, which don't point out problems you need to solve, but simply nag and bother you.
Worry time is the time you set aside each day exclusively for worrying. This idea may seem strange to you, because it runs counter to our usual instincts but, the fact is that trying to avoid, dismiss or oppose our worrying thoughts just gives them more energy, like pouring fuel onto a fire.
During a worry appointment, which will last about ten minutes, you'll engage in pure worry. Devote your full attention to worrying, and nothing else. Don't engage in other activities, like driving, showering, eating, cleaning, texting, listening to music, riding on a train, and so on. Spend the full ten minutes worrying about whatever items you usually worry about.
Make a list of your worries ahead of time, so you have an agenda. And don't try to solve problems, reassure yourself, minimize problems, relax, clear your mind, reason with yourself, or take any other steps to stop worrying. Simply worry, which means reciting, repeatedly, lots of "what if" questions about unpleasant possibilities.
This will probably seem strange and awkward at first but stick with it.
Schedule your appointments with worry in advance, two a day, and lock them into your schedule. Pick times when you have privacy and don't have to answer the phone or the doorbell, talk to others, look after the dog or the kids, and so on. It's usually best to avoid the following times: first thing in the morning on waking, last thing at night or right after meals.
Watching Yourself Worry
One more detail: worry out loud, in front of a mirror.
This is perhaps the most peculiar part, I know, but don't skip it. It's important!
The advantage of doing the worrying this way is that it helps you be a better observer of your worry. Most worry is subliminal. It occurs when we're multitasking. We worry while driving, texting, showering, eating, watching television, or doing some routine work that doesn't demand much attention. And since we rarely give worry our full attention, it's easy for it to continue endlessly.
When you worry out loud, you don't just say the worries, you hear them.
When you worry in front of a mirror, you see yourself doing the worrying. You're not just worrying in the back of your mind.
You're hearing, and watching, yourself as you worry. The worry is no longer subliminal, and this will probably help you get a better perspective on it.
Worry appointments are deliberately structured this way to convert worry from a multitasking activity to a unitary one, in which you only do one thing—worry—and you do it with the fullest awareness and attention possible.
Watching yourself worry sounds, on the surface, like a bizarre, unwelcome exercise. You'd need a pretty good reason to do worry appointments.
And there is one! There's usually a benefit that comes during the rest of the day, when you're not engaged in a worry appointment. If you find yourself worrying when you're off "worry duty," you can give yourself the following choice: You can either:
- take ten minutes now to worry very deliberately about this issue, or
- postpone it to your next worry appointment. Just write it down on a pad or on your smartphone to add to your worry time agenda.
The immediate benefit is the ability to postpone worry. Many people find that this enables them to sweep large portions of their day relatively clear of worry. However, it only works if you actually do the worry periods as prescribed. If you try to postpone worries, knowing that you probably won't actually show up for the worry appointments, the postponing probably won't work for you. So don't try to fool yourself!
The postponing alone, the reduction in worry during the rest of your day, would probably be sufficient reason by itself to justify doing worry appointments. But there's more! The regular use of worry appointments will also be a big help in changing your automatic responses to chronic worry, and help you take the content of the worrisome thoughts less seriously.
I encourage you to start using this wonderful exercise, and to practice it daily for at least two months - which research tells us is the average time it takes to create a new habit.