Reduce Anxiety by Scheduling Worry Time

Limit worry time to its scheduled time and watch worries disappear.

“In every life we have some trouble; when you worry, you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy…”[1] The lyrics are not only catchy—they’re true. In fact, researchers have long known that worry can prolong stress and its associated physiological symptoms. Now new research indicates that scheduling worry—so that it is confined to a specific half-hour period each day—can help reduce anxiety.[2]

The tactic may sound counterintuitive, but it also makes sense—if worry is limited to a specific time period, it can’t overtake the rest of your day. The technique allows people to compartmentalize worry—meaning they set aside time to contemplate their worries and consider solutions and they also deliberately avoid thinking about those issues throughout the rest of the day. It’s a form of “stimulus control” called worry postponement and disengagement and Dutch researchers found that people who used the technique reduced their anxiety and depression significantly more than people who relied on traditional anxiety treatment.

There are four critical steps to worry reduction:

1.Identify and realize that you are worrying.

2.Set aside a time and a place to think about your worries.

3.When you catch yourself worrying, postpone worrying and instead focus on the task at hand.

4.Use your “worry time” to try to solve the issues that cause the worrying.

The researchers found that individuals who followed the four-step worry reduction technique significantly reduced anxiety and concern. Interestingly, even individuals who simply performed step one—identifying and realizing that they were worrying—experienced a reduction in anxiety.

More research is needed to confirm the results of this small study, but the takeaway message is clear: postponing worry and confining it to a specific time and place may help limit the impact it has on your overall mental and emotional wellbeing. Put simply, if you’re overwhelmed with worry, consider scheduling daily “worry time.” It’s sort of like “tough love” for your brain.

Reference:

[1] “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin

[2] Verkuil B, Brosschot JF, Korrelboom K, et al. Pretreatment of worry enhances the effects of stress management therapy: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 2011;80:189-190.

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