Thinking is a good thing. It involves reflection and analysis, which leads to greater clarity and purposeful action. But that is not what most of us are doing right now. We are head spiraling about catching a potentially deadly disease. We are worried our loved ones might get sick. We fear we might lose our jobs and businesses. And we want to know how long it will take to get back our freedom to live our daily lives.
Worrying is essentially problem-solving gone awry, and what starts as concern over an issue turns into obsessing about everything that could go wrong. This is especially true during times of uncertainty, like a pandemic with no end in sight!
The good news is, there’s a simple strategy that can help you contain your worry until a more appropriate and productive time. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. The goal is to set a specific time each day that you will allow yourself to worry for a certain amount of time. Afterward, you postpone all future worrying until your next designated worry time.
Being in a chronic state of worry is bad for your mental and physical wellbeing. Acute worrying can cause physical complications (such as insomnia, digestive troubles, and exhaustion) or psychological challenges (including anxiety, depression, and panic attacks). Productivity wanes, your relationships suffer, and you are unable to concentrate when all you want to do is be present, healthy, and hopeful during this crisis. Therefore, working on containing your worry to designated periods serves to free-up the mind for other important, interesting, or fun activities. It can be an incredibly valuable tool.
Steps to postpone your worry:
- During the 15-30 minute window, write down your worries or sit quietly with your thoughts. Try to avoid doing anything else during your allocated worry time. Allow yourself to be present with the fear without any distraction, but keep control and do not enter into a state of panic. This is time to process how you feel, not catastrophize, and picture worst-case scenarios. After your 15-30 minutes is done, bring yourself back to the next task in your day.
- Whenever you catch yourself worrying outside of that time frame, remind yourself it’s not time to worry and that you’ll have plenty of time to think about those worries during your scheduled time. This will feel hard at first, but it gets easier the more you practice.
- After your worry time, if you are tempted to worry again, tell yourself that you have already had your worry time for the day and will see to that thought tomorrow.
A scheduled worry time can help us draw attention to how we subconsciously worry and also encourages us to deal with any problems in a more rational and organized way. As you practice this more, you’ll start to notice an increased ability to control when and where you worry, and the inclination to worry will begin to diminish in intensity and frequency.
Other than social distancing, you cannot control what is happening in the world right now. Limiting the amount of time you spend obsessing over everything is the only way to reduce your stress and have some semblance of a normal life.
So, turn off the news and focus on something productive. Be present with your friends and family. And take back the one thing you can control, your state of mind and wellbeing.