Top tips on managing anxiety using the worry tree

Worry is a common problem, particularly when times are difficult. People often worry about the things or people that they value.


The definition of anxiety is, 'Future catastrophising and feeling that you cannot cope.'

A typical example would be that your daughter has not come home on time and you have not received a message. If you are a worrier, your brain immediately activates your threat system. Your threat is the thought of something bad happening to her. Your threat system starts to activate the hormones adrenalin and cortisol. Your mind creates images of worse-case scenarios, catastrophising all the terrible things that could have happened to her.

In addition, you don’t feel in control. You often castigate yourself for reacting in this way. As your threat system is activated it keeps focusing on the threat – the threat of a bad thing happening to your daughter – so you cannot get it out of your mind. 

You then focus on the anxiety feelings – worrying about the anxiety and whether it is doing you any harm. This, in turn, simply makes it worse and you simply create more anxiety.

Then your daughter arrives home and apologises. She explains that she did not contact you as her phone had run out of charge. She does not see the problem and why you are worrying so much.

As she is home now, the threat has gone. You then feel relief, calm down, but then start thinking about what still could go wrong the next time…

What is a worry tree?

The worry tree is a model that can help you tackle anxious thoughts.

The first step is to ask yourself: 

  • Is this worry a solvable worry that I can do something about?
  • Or is this something I cannot do anything about?
  • Or is it a bit of both?
  • What can I do about the problem?

The tree has two main branches to help you navigate a way forward. 

I can do something

If you can do something you can take the first branch – a problem-solving approach. Write down all the possible solutions you can think of to solve the problem. Then pick two or three that you think might work. Go through the pros and cons of each strategy. Finally, choose your best strategy or a combination of them. Then create an action plan on how you are going to solve the problem.

The benefit of the problem-solving approach is that it can help you feel you are doing something about it – that you are more in control. This is called agency and is helpful for your own well-being, too.

So, in the above example, you could not do anything with that event. But, in the future, you could encourage her to have her phone fully charged, to take a small charger with her, to have a plan B if something is wrong with her phone, and encourage her to realise the importance of contacting you.

I can’t solve the problem

If you cannot do anything about it, here the branch leads you to use different self-soothing strategies – by taking time to calm down your threat system through participating in activities that help you to calm and self-soothe. 

One is mindfulness, which means focusing on something in the present moment. This could be any task such as cooking, washing up, or bringing your full attention to something such as listening to music or playing a game. Mindfulness is also about not reacting to thoughts or emotions, especially distressing ones. 

The other technique is to use the thought record method. This is to challenge your negative thoughts – to develop more realistic, balanced thoughts. It can be helpful to see your negative thoughts as a bully – someone who is trying to upset you. Then try to write down realistic, rational statements as alternative explanations. 

Another technique is called attentional training. This is slightly different from mindfulness as you deliberately focus your attention on activities you find engaging and interesting. This usually works best if it engages your brain and your body – such as playing music, dancing, writing, art or making things. The idea is that your brain moves again from the threat system to the pleasurable system so the brain moves from the threat system to the pleasure system creating dopamine.

If the problem is a bit of both

The last strategy (and final branch of the tree) is that sometimes a situation is not that clear cut into worries you can solve and ones that you cannot. So the third strategy is to separate out the aspects of the situation that you can solve and then what you cannot change you work on the others aspects. 

This process can help to clarify components of your worry and can still help you to feel in control. 

Example is:

What I can do – check that my daughter’s phone is fully charged and she has a backup. Agree that she needs to phone me within a certain time to give me feedback. 

When she goes out again and I worry – I am going to start experimenting with a new recipe as I love cooking and it helps to engage my brain. This will help me to focus on something meaningful and pleasurable.

I hope you find this useful. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Desborough, Northamptonshire, NN14
Written by Wendy Castelino, CBT Therapist BABCP, EMDR, ACT, CFT, Mindfulness, Confidence
Desborough, Northamptonshire, NN14

Wendy Castelino is an accredited Cognitive Behaviour Therapist who specialises in helping people with overcoming anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and trauma. She has worked as a therapist for thirty years and her values are providing simple, effective skills-based therapy. She is developing online courses on these topics - see

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