Did you know that scheduling time to worry can actually be helpful? If you’ve come to know yourself, you might have learned that you’re a thinker, or maybe you describe yourself as analytical or introspective. That is a strength. When it becomes counterproductive, however, is when the thoughts turn to excessive worry. Now I’m no longer exploring new ideas but venturing down rabbit holes of worry. It can be helpful to actually schedule time for worrying because A) it’s great to honor yourself and the pensive person that you are, and B) some things are problematic enough that they deserve additional time and focus around them. It would be great if we could simply tell ourselves – “don’t worry; it’ll be fine!” – and we could drop it in an instant. But our minds don’t really work like that. Scheduling a ‘worry time’ for later in the day gives us permission to let it go in the moment, knowing that we’ll give it its due diligence later.
Want to give it a try? My favorite way to introduce a structured worry time is to 1) allow it to accompany an already scheduled activity. Be sure to pick something that you can do mindlessly. In other words, I could probably shower without ever thinking about any part of that process if I wanted to, so I can give myself permission to worry about that promotion interview that’s been weighing on me while I shower. Once the water stops running, however, it’s time to move on. I make this agreement with myself and stick to it. You want to 2) make sure it’s time-limited, and you stick to the parameters of the time you’ve designated. I suggest keeping it to 20-30 minutes. You might also find it helpful to 3) jot some things down that feel like problem-solving steps you could actually take when doing your worrying. You may come up with some new thoughts around it that are actionable steps. This is helpful in the scheduled worry process because when the worry comes up later (not during scheduled time), you can remind yourself of your next steps that you’ve taken or plan to take to help appease the anxiety in the moment. You might also jot down any specific thoughts around the worry and see if you can 4) challenge some of your worry-laden thoughts. For example: “if I don’t finish this project on time, I’ll probably get fired.” What is the likelihood of this? Have I been written up before? Am I hanging on by a thread? Would getting fired be the absolute worst thing that’s ever happened? You may be able to find some rational space to get yourself back grounded in this process. 5) Consider probability versus possibility. Many things are possible, but are they probable?
Worrying can lead to poor concentration and focus, which can lead to more mistakes, not being able to problem-solve well, etc. Emotionally, we may be feeling overwhelmed and less capable of tackling the day to day responsibilities of our lives. Our distress tolerance diminishes, and we simply cannot continue to take on as much. Physically, we know that when we worry we carry that somewhere – tense shoulders, clenched jaw, etc. Prolonged stress and worry is also hazardous for our hearts and can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke.
Pandemic life has definitely added to the worry-load of many. If it’s feeling overwhelming, find a great therapist to help you manage the added layers of stress that COVID-19 is creating. There are a number of therapist directories that make this process easier, such as www.therapytribe.com or www.therapyden.com. Also invest in self-care: get outdoors, find quiet reading time, participate in physical activity, make sure you get at least 8 hours of quality sleep, rest when you need to, be mindful of what you put into your body (nutritional intake is your body and mind’s fuel each day), take time off from work, get creative in your social connectivity (like Zoom socials with friends), journal, and extend compassion, patience, and forgiveness to yourself because living in a pandemic isn’t the norm.