Time Out for Worry


How Worrying Becomes a Habit

Because worry can happen at any time and place, it becomes associated with many situations. To reduce how often worrying occurs, a person ought to limit the conditions when it arises.

Telling someone not to worry rarely makes them worry less. Instead, allow yourself to worry by devoting a specified time during the day in which you can worry all you want. By doing this, you can start to control it. You can sense moments throughout the day where worry starts to creep in, and you can tell it to wait. You’re not ignoring it nor invalidating it. You’re telling it, “Not right now.” This process gives you the freedom to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish at the moment and the opportunity to work through your concerns during your dedicated worry time.

This technique borrows from a simple principle from the Learning Theory Branch of Psychology. When people repeatedly do something in one situation, they are likely to do it again the next time they are in that situation. For example, suppose a person eats while watching TV, snacks while reading, and eats sit-down meals in the kitchen. In that case, they are likely to eat whenever any of these situations occur. Suppose a person learns to eat only in the kitchen at specified times. Over time, eating becomes dissociated from all other conditions, and the probability of excess snacking decreases.

Because one can worry at nearly any time and place, it becomes associated with multiple situations. So, to reduce the frequency, a person ought to limit the conditions in which worrying happens.

Let’s Break it Down into Steps

  1. Closely observe your thinking during the day and learn to identify the early signs of worrying
  2. Establish a half-hour worry period to take place at the very same time and place each day
  3. Postpone your worrying, as soon as you catch yourself, until your worry period
  4. Replace the worrisome thoughts with focused attention on the task at hand
  5. Use your daily worry period to think intensively about your current concerns

That’s it! Super simple. If you’re a constant worrier, try it and see if it works for you. This technique aims to isolate the worry process by learning to associate it with a limited set of circumstances.