I'm a worrier, what can I do?!
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
There are two types of worries
Bet you thought all worrying was equal? Well not so! There are two categories of worries. How you deal with worrying depends on which type of worry you are dealing with so begin by asking yourself "what am I worrying about" and then categorise based on the below.
The first category is called ‘hypothetical’ worries, these bad boys usually start with a “what if…” statement or something similar, e.g. "what if I fail the exam?" "What if I get lost on the way there?". These worries are about things that haven’t happened and (THE IMPORTANT BIT...) may never happen (except in that vivid imagination of yours!).
The second category is called ‘real-event’ worries, these are about things that have happened and need sorting out e.g. that bill that needs paying or working out a route from home to a new venue.
An important issue I've found in my therapy work is that most people can understand the concept of hypothetical and real-event worries but when they are in the thick of anxiety they tend to categorise all their worries as real-event worries. Starting to write down worries and categorising helps to create some distance from the worry-thought and can make it easier to see which is which.
Strategy for managing real-event worries
A real-event worry requires problem-solving. This means sitting down with a notebook and pen to write through the following points (don't skip the writing down part as this is vital so that you can refer back to this if you start to worry again):
1) what the worry is
2) brain storm possible solutions (you can include others for this if it helps)
3) if none of the possible solutions are jumping out at you as the obvious one to try then write the pros and cons
4) choose one of the solutions and try it out for at least 1-2 weeks
5) every time you start to worry again remind yourself that you've already worked through this and look at your problem-solving notes.
Strategy for managing hypothetical worries
Being able to label a worry as hypothetical is massive! In fact this is an important intervention in itself because labelling allows you to see the thought for what it really is (your anxious brain on overdrive) and allows you to make a decision around how to interact with this worry
How to create some space from worries that keep interrupting your day
If you have noticed that worrying interrupts a lot of your daily activities then you might benefit from a technique called ‘worry-time’*. This is a dedicated part of your day when you can sit down and look at worries that are coming up and give them your undivided attention. Set up a list on your phone note app and call it WT (worry time). At any point in the day when you notice your attention being pulled away from your current activity to a worry jot it down in your notes. This gives your mind the permission it needs to let go of it and re-focus, knowing that it will be able to come back to it properly at a later time.
Then allocate a time in the early evening (15-30 minutes) to go through your WT list which is when you can categorise the worry and use the problem-solving
But I'm too anxious to do any of this?!
Then you may need to use a grounding exercise first, this can help to settle the nervous system before trying to use access your 'thinking' part of the brain. Read this blog post on calming down and listen to the accompanying audio recording and then come back to this post to try out the ideas.
* Worry time is a CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) technique. It will take time to practice this, don't expect any technique to work perfectly the first few times you try it.