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Scheduled Worry Time

Worry is common. We all worry at some point. During these past few years, worry has become a large part of many people's lives and is regularly reinforced in the news. And worry can be helpful, adaptive even. We often find ourselves worried about particular outcomes; this may serve to motivate us. We’re concerned we’ll do poorly on a test or struggle with a work presentation. As a result, the mind kicks into gear and we take action to prepare. But then worry becomes pervasive and we ask ourselves “why can’t I stop worrying?” In such situations, the mind is doing its job. It prefers to think, organize, and problem-solve. Worry can become harmful when it starts affecting other aspects of our lives, but we must first better understand this tendency of the mind if we are to eventually tame it.

For starters, some claim that worry can help us to emotionally prepare for distressing events. However, lessening the initial emotional impact of an event is not functional in the long term. Chronic worrying can lead to impairment in multiple domains of life (occupationally, socially, and in our physical health). Worry can also seem like problem-solving. However, the thoughts that worrying consists of aren’t always rational. To counteract worry, we need to become more skilled in thinking objectively. This is particularly handy when we find the mind catastrophizing or focusing on the worst possible outcomes. Research has demonstrated that worry, of a catastrophic nature, is not functional in the long-term and actually leads to the generation of less effective solutions.

So, let's stop trying to change a cognitive skill that is habitual to us. Sometimes it can be helpful to lean into it. One such tool that utilizes worry is scheduled or structured worry. And let's be very intentional in terms of how we do this. In the same way we are typically intentional about how we study, exercise, or work, we want to ensure we are worrying with a similar approach. Scheduled worry time is a cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, strategy that treats worry as a task with a specific beginning, middle, and end. Schedule it at a specific time each day (not too close to bedtime); sit in the same place with quiet surroundings. Sit down for 10-20 minutes and get your worries on paper. Work through those that can be worked through; create actionable steps. Those that can’t are set aside until the next day, when you’ll have another opportunity to mindfully and intentionally use the worry as a problem-solving skill (rather than as a distress-inducing task without an end). When you find yourself worrying during the day, remind yourself your time to worry is not now!

Scheduled worry time has been shown to lead to a significant decrease in anxiety (for those that practice it regularly). A study performed by researchers at Penn State separated participants into two groups. One group worried "as usual" and the other employed scheduled worry time. A significant decrease in anxiety was seen in those that regularly used scheduled worry time. Additionally, these participants experienced improved sleep! Remember, worry is without limits. We are aiming to set boundaries for worry in an attempt to eliminate rumination. Thinking with a clear mind and with intentionality then frees us up to problem-solve more effectively.

Therapy helps us develop tools to improve our lives and similarly, it is time-limited! Therapy is not indefinite. Self-exploration can help us identify the aspects of our lives which truly warrant our time, attention, and energy. If you’re looking to better understand yourself and improve your mental health, contact Roswell Psychology today.

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