I am a worrier. I fret over little things, like my never-ending to-do list, and over big things, like whether global warming will render the earth uninhabitable for my grandchildren.
I worry at night before bed. I worry while washing the breakfast dishes. I worry when things in my life are stressful — and when they aren’t stressful, I brace myself, expecting the worst to transpire at any minute.
I’ve always been this way, and I’ve grown to accept that this is just who I am, for better or worse. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy being someone who worries like this.
Too much anxiety is not healthy for anyone, especially when it takes over your life, or makes you unable to function. Anxiety can also take a huge toll on your physical health, resulting in symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues, respiratory disorders, and even heart disease.
Obviously, if you are a chronic worrier or anxiety sufferer, one of your top mental health goals is to reduce that anxiety. There are many wonderful ways to do so, including therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has proven to be quite effective), meditation, exercise, and medication when needed.
I have tried all of these, and while I’ve been able to significantly reduce my anxious thoughts over the years, I have never been able to eliminate them completely. I wonder sometimes if I would want to have a completely worry-free existence. After all, sometimes worry propels me to take action in my life — to actually face stress head-on and come up with a plan to combat it.
When channeled appropriately, worry can be a positive thing, and can actually reduce our anxiety. But for that to happen, you have to be able to control that worry to some extent.
Sometimes when I am flooded with excessive worry, I take some time each day to write my worries out in list form. At other times, I have started a meditation session listing my anxieties in my head. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in both instances, I was “scheduling my anxiety.”
Scheduling your worries or anxieties is actually a tool suggested by therapists, and an effective way to manage stress. In a nutshell, you pick times during the day to “dump” your anxiety out all at once, perhaps writing your anxieties down, sharing them with a friend or therapist, or whatever method works best for you.
The rest of the time, if you feel yourself starting to worry, you say to yourself, “Hold on to that thought for now. You’ll get to worry later, at your scheduled time.”
The beauty of this technique is that you still get a chance to worry on a daily basis, but you have some control over it. You get to pick your times to obsess over this or that, and hopefully reduce your overall time spent worrying.
The idea of scheduling your anxiety didn’t materialize out of nowhere. The technique has become more popular since a research team from the Netherlands published a 2011 paper about the phenomenon in the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
To study the effects of scheduling worry, the team brought together a group of 62 patients who had been suffering from increased anxiety and physical ailments due to work-related stress. For two weeks, they either participated in a “worry postponement and disengagement” intervention (i.e., scheduling their worry); a “registering worry frequency and duration” strategy; or simply carrying on as usual with their existing treatments.
The researchers found that the participants who scheduled their worries had significantly reduced stress levels as compared to those who did not. Interestingly, they also found that those who simply recognized that they were worrying (the “registering worry frequency and duration” group) also enjoyed a reduction in anxiety. Simply being mindful of the fact that you are worrying can have enormous benefits, according to this research.
The researchers of the study admit that more research needs to be done to conclude that scheduling worry is an effective technique to reduce stress. Like all the anxiety-reduction techniques out there, if used in a purposeful and thoughtful way — and certainly when combined with other modalities like therapy — it has a lot of promise.
In the same way that meditation doesn’t always work for everyone, it may be that scheduling anxiety is more effective for some sufferers than others. If your worrying and anxiety feels utterly unmanageable, scheduling it won’t really help or even be possible. There are times in one’s life when the out-of-control thoughts are just that — totally out of control. If you are in that place, a more targeted mental health plan may be more fitting.
But if you are like me — someone who just seems to worry all the time, and wants an easy way to reduce the nagging thoughts — scheduling your worries is worth a try. At the very least, it will make you more aware of when you are worrying, so that you can hopefully redirect your thoughts in those moments.
You might find that it is possible to do a daily “worry brain dump,” and then get to enjoy more of your day living in the here and now.
Originally published on Talkspace.
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