Take a worry break

Most of us know only too well what it is like to worry: anxious thoughts swirl around in our minds, unnerving us and there seems to no viable resolution in sight. These ‘thought storms’ can be like a downpour that never seems to end, as worry only appears to tighten its grip on us.

One of the most useful techniques I have found is to take, on a daily basis, a ‘worry break’. This technique is no sure-fire cure for worry, but I have seen it help so many people that I can say confidently that it is worth you trying it.

How does it work?

  • The first step is to set aside a time and place where you are alone and to sit down and worry for 20-30 minutes (if this is difficult to arrange, a shorter period may suffice) on a daily basis.
  • What this specifically involves is that you sit down and wholeheartedly worry about what is troubling you. Do not hold back on your worries: think of the worst case scenarios, if need be.
  • Once your time worry time is up, you get up and do something else. And here is the crucial part: at any other time of the day, before and after your worry period, you are not to worry. If you catch yourself worrying, tell yourself that you will address the issue during your worry period. At first, stopping yourself worrying at these times will be difficult, but it will get easier with time.
  • Assuming all goes well you should, over a period of time, find that worry has less of a grip on your life and that the issues that seemed so foreboding in the past possess less of a power to disturb.

Why does it work?  

When this technique does work, I think it does for two main reasons. First of all, it stands to reason that the less time you devote to your worries, the less anxious you are likely to feel. While the worry break is a period of concentrated worry, it does not last as long as the kind of rumination where you are worrying most of the day.

Another reason is that, when we typically have anxious thoughts, our instincts are to try and eliminate them either by employing some form of distraction, thought suppression or trying to argue against them. The last thing that we want to do is to confront them and spend much time with them, as they are discomfiting.

But this only lends these thoughts more power, as your avoidance is based on the premise that it is dangerous to be "around" these thoughts for too long. And just as important is the fact that your avoidance does not let you get used to the thoughts and for them to become less scary.

This is where the worry break can help. By embracing rather than avoiding, thinking about worrisome scenarios, they start to seem familiar over time which is the opposite of the frightening unknown. In short, as you set up a routine of thinking about your own current worse case scenarios, they too start to become a routine part of your mental furniture. Indeed, although the scariness may not go completely away, the worrisome thoughts will be more manageable.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Dr Alexander Fox (MBACP, Masters in Counselling, PhD (Eng Lit.))

I am a pluralistic counsellor in private practice in the city centre of Dundee. I am trained to help clients with a wide variety of problems and I am able to employ a number of different therapeutic approaches, so that the therapy process is always tailored to the individual needs of each of my clients.… Read more

Written by Dr Alexander Fox (MBACP, Masters in Counselling, PhD (Eng Lit.))

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