In my last column I talked about three different broad categories of worry: social, obsessive and general. In this column I focus on different techniques your clients can use to overcome their worry. The following tips are straightforward and simple and can be easily taught to and adopted by your clients. But, do not let the simplicity of their use underwhelm your clients and cause them to “not bother or waste their time because they do not work.” They are extremely effective for controlling worry.
Thought stopping interrupts negative thoughts by consciously telling one’s self to “STOP!” Once the thoughts are stopped, the person then replaces them with more positive and realistic ones. This technique is successful for all types of worry. This technique works because it teaches a person to recognize negative thought patterns.
But, awareness is only aspect of overcoming worry. To be successful at controlling worry, a person must also act. Yelling “STOP!” is the action. The action continues by choosing a realistic and emotionally neutral or affirming thought that reduces the anxiety and is counter to what the person was worrying about.
For example, if a person obsesses about whether or not they turned the stove off before they left home, yell “STOP!” Once the thoughts are halted (it may take a few times of yelling it), they can say to themselves, “I am sure that I turned off the stove. I remember turning the knob to the off position after removing the tea kettle. There is no need to worry as my home is fine.” You can tailor this technique to address the type of anxiety and worry your patients engage in on a daily basis.
Yes, that’s right. I want you to tell your patients to worry. The catch is that they can only do it for 20 minutes at the same time each day. The problem is not that your clients worry. The problem is that it is often ongoing and interferes with their lives. Help them bring some order and structure to their worrying. To do so, teach them the following steps.
- Create a designated worry time that lasts for 20 minutes at the same time each day. Make sure that the place they choose is quiet and free from interruptions.
- Throughout the day, have them write down any worries that pop into their head. Then tell them that they can worry about it during their designated worry time.
- During their designated worry time, tell them to worry until their heart’s content. If they do not have anything to worry about, have them worry about the things they postponed during the day. But, they have to stop after 20 minutes. That is all they get. If there are things they still need to worry about, have them put them on tomorrow’s worry agenda. If they find that they don’t need the full 20 minutes, they can find something fun to do.
Don’t be surprised that if after a few days of doing this technique your patients realize they don’t need to do it every day or for the full 20 minutes.
The goal of distraction is simple-delay your worry long enough so that the urge to worry passes. This basic act will reduce the importance of the worry and push it completely out of awareness. The type of delay needs to be something that doesn’t allow your patient to worry while they’re doing it. For example, watching television is not a good delay tactic. It’s easy for their mind to wander while they’re zoned out watching their favorite show. Instead, they can try the ones below:
- Have a conversation with someone
- Play a board game or complete a puzzle
- Go to church/Pray
- Draw or paint a picture
- Play with their child
- Make a to-do-list for the next week
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” The first few sentences of the Serenity Prayer are profound. There are some things in life that we can control. But, there are many other things that we can’t control A person free from worry is a person who knows when to let go of something that he or she can’t change. One simple technique is to recite the Serenity Prayer.
Please give me the wisdom to know when I should let go of those things in my
life that I cannot change. Help me find the courage to face adversity when every
ounce of my being says to avoid it. Grant me the strength to stay the course
when my mind tries to distract me from what I know is best. Remind me that
with your support, I have control over my thoughts, feelings, and actions. Bless
me with the ability to accept pain and uncertainty are a part of life.
*This article is adapted from Dr. Moore’s book Taking Control of Anxiety: Small Steps for Getting the Best of Worry, Stress, and Fear.