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How Learn to Live Delivers CBT: Part 8

If you tend to worry, you know just how sticky worry can be. Maybe people around you tell you to just let it go. They may tell you to move on. Or they might point out to you just how unnecessary all that worry is. But even though you try, letting go of that worry isn’t easy.

If that’s you, then the idea of Worry Time might be helpful for you. Here’s the idea: even though it seems like worry is voluntary, it isn’t.  Worry doesn’t just show up. In reality, it serves a purpose.  Think about it, why do you worry? We might think we need to worry to be responsible, we worry about A instead of worrying about B. We may worry because we think will come up with a solution for the thing that we’re worried about.

In any case, here’s what worry time might look like. Instead of worrying over a long period of time, I can plan to do it during specific time blocks–say from 7:00 to 7:20 every evening. Then, in between scheduled worry blocks, if I’m tempted to worry about, say, whether or not my kids are going to get sick, I remind myself “just wait, you can just worry about this during your worry time.” Then when 7:00 shows up I give myself permission to worry as much as I want to.

This is not the act of trying NOT to think about something. Studies show that trying to not think about X causes me to think about it many times more. When I suppress certain thoughts, it  usually backfires. But worry time is different. Instead, with worry time, I allow myself to worry but to do it later. I can limit my worry time to scheduled time blocks.

Many people are amazed by the impact of  worry time. They’re surprised that it’s possible to catch themselves starting to worry. When they do, they can defer that worry to their worry time.  And then they’re surprised by the impact on their anxiety. No, it doesn’t serve as a magic carpet ride out of worry land for everyone. But it can be really powerful for many people. And that’s consistent with CBT research.

But what if these are real things I should think about and act on? I just don’t want to think about them all the time. In our Learn to Live Stress, Anxiety and Worry program, we make it clear that it’s OK to use this worry time for actual problem-solving. If someone uses their worry time to think about concerns about, say, their cat’s health, that’s okay. The worry time becomes problem-solving time instead. It still serves the same great benefit. If they felt anxious all day about their cat, reminding themselves “I’ll think about this later, when it’s time” helps. Then they worry less while waiting for the scheduled time.

Now some people are surprised to find that, when worry time shows up, they actually don’t experience significant anxiety. Sometimes they find themselves saying that the thing they were worried about at 11:00 AM doesn’t seem like something worth worrying about during their 3:00 PM worry time. But that’s OK—they can use their worry time for doing something fun, like a rousing game of solitaire.

Whether worry time is filled with worry or not, many find that a small island of worry in the day makes for a much richer life than a whole continent, err, day, filled with worry.