Be honest with yourself – how often do you find yourself worrying? A recent study revealed that the average person spends a whopping five years of their lives worrying! This is an enormous drain of time and energy for something that truly does not serve us. Worrying is a very common reaction to feeling out of control, even a sense of helplessness and fear. It can feel very imminent, or it can be a low-level anxiety. In either case, worry is a contributor to overwhelm.
One way we can manage this reaction is to set a ‘worry date.’ This shifts perception and makes the act of worrying one that is consciously taking place, rather than creeping up constantly. The letter “I” in the ‘STORIES’ process reminds us to ‘identify’ what we can control. If we focus on something outside of our control, we will inevitably feel overwhelmed, because there is nothing we can do – it merely compounds the feelings of helplessness.
One thing I suggest to clients is to ask themselves these questions: Is there anything you can do about it now? Later? If there’s nothing you can do about it now or later, and it’s still bothering you, set a worry date – an actual time to worry about it. When your mind drifts back to worrying about that situation, you can remind yourself that Sunday at 2pm you are scheduled to worry. Until then, you can choose to focus on other things. Sunday at 2pm, you can use that time constructively to come up with solutions or updates to the problem. If there’s still nothing you can do, or you choose to use that time for something other than worrying, you can set another ‘worry date’ in the future.
An example of this is my client Heather. She worried about terrorist attacks in her small rural community. The more she watched the news, the more she worried, and she felt compelled to watch even more news. First, we reduced Heather’s exposure to the news that added to her worry. Then she set a worry date. Any time her habitual tendency to worry showed up, she reminded herself that she had an appointment to worry on Sunday. However, when Sunday came, she had much more interesting things to do than worry. So she set a future worry date. By the time this process repeated over a few weeks, Heather found that she didn’t feel the need to worry as much.
Setting aside time to worry may seem counterproductive, but so is endlessly worrying about something you can’t control. By managing your worry, you’ll keep your focus on the important things you CAN control.