Why You May Want to Put “Worry Time” on Your Daily Schedule
Nearly everyone worries at some point—whether about family, work, health, or finances. Typically, worry involves thoughts about things that might happen in the future and whether you’ll be able to handle them. Maybe your worries are small, like fretting about finding time to fold laundry. Or maybe they’re larger, like worrying about having enough money to pay for your child’s college education.
Typical levels of worry shouldn’t interfere with daily life. But most people worry more than usual when facing something new, unknown, or challenging. And constant worry can affect sleep, concentration, work, and your ability to enjoy your free time.
“[Some] worriers worry throughout the day and often the night,” says Andrew Rosen, Ph.D., board-certified psychologist and founder and clinical director of the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. “The worries have an endless loop and solve nothing. Often, there is no filter in terms of identifying which worries are important and which are not.”
If your worrisome thoughts consume you, consider scheduling time in your day just to worry. Here’s how the “worry time” technique can help.
Why You Should Try Worry Time
Research suggests that scheduling worry time can effectively help decrease worry. In one study, Penn State researchers divided participants into two groups. One group was told to schedule worry time. The other was told to worry as they normally do. Findings showed that those who scheduled time to worry experienced a significant reduction in anxiety and even slept better compared to the other group.
“The idea is to create a boundary on each end of worrying,” says John Sovec, a licensed therapist based in Pasadena, California. “Meaning: ‘I’m going to give myself this much time in my day to let this worry play out.’”
Dedicating time in your day to devote to your worries may help you think more rationally and clearly about what’s troubling you.
“Using this technique may help you interrupt negative thought patterns during the day and become more mindful or present,” says Derek G. Turesky, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist who practices in Boca Raton, Florida.
It may also help you determine which concerns you can control and which aren’t worth stressing about. “Scheduling worry time reassures you that you’re not neglecting worries. Instead, you’ll deal with them in an organized, planned way at some later time during the day,” Rosen says. “It also allows you to be fully engaged with whatever activity you should be involved with instead.”
As a result, you’ll (hopefully) spend less time worrying and more time being productive and enjoying yourself throughout the day.
“The goal is to eradicate or reduce [the worry’s] frequency or intensity,” adds Devon J. Estes, a licensed professional counselor based in Dallas. “[Worry time] keeps us from being disrupted by intrusive thoughts that bleed into the rest of our day.”
The good news: It shouldn’t take too long to start working. The previously mentioned Penn State study suggests that it can take as little as two to four weeks to notice the benefits of scheduling worry time.
6 Tips for the Worry Time Technique
Follow these tips to make the most of your worry time.
1. Block out the time on your calendar or planner.
Set a timer for a 20- to 30-minute window. During this time, don’t do anything else so you can focus on easing worry, Turesky says.
Aim to schedule each session for the same time and place. And do it in a location where you won’t want to stay or linger, like a kitchen chair or hall bench that isn’t overly comfortable. “If you get too comfortable, you may get stuck there,” Estes says.
Don’t schedule it within an hour of bedtime lest it interfere with your sleep. “Worry is not supposed to be endless ruminating,” Rosen says. “It is supposed to evaluate and then trigger problem-solving behavior.”
2. Consider keeping a worry log or diary.
“You may want to write your worries down on paper, you may want to type them out and save them on your phone, or you may want to just think and reflect during this time,” says Samantha Gambino, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist who practices in New York City. “There is no right or wrong way to do this. So, be patient with yourself until you find what works for you.”
3. Organize your thoughts.
It may help you think clearly if you categorize your worries into areas that work for you. You might organize them by small, medium, and large concerns. Or you can organize them by type, like work, family, financial, and relationship concerns.
Choose as many categories as you’d like—but don’t let the organization become overwhelming. A good rule of thumb is to aim for three to seven categories.
4. Brainstorm ways to solve problems.
Think about how you’ll manage your worries. For example, if you’re worried that your car will break down, consider taking it for a tuneup. If you can’t control something (say the weather being sunny on your child’s graduation day), you can accept that the worry is there but remind yourself that the situation is beyond your control.
According to Rosen, scheduled worry time allows us to take a step back and look at what’s bothering us from a different perspective. You might just find that what you were worrying about wasn’t as important as you’d originally thought, or that there’s a solution that will help reduce or eliminate the concern.
5. Make a plan to transition back into your day.
After taking time to worry, Estes suggests transition activities like listening to calming music or an inspirational podcast. “Bring yourself some emotional regulation,” she says.
Sovec also likes to listen to music, but he pumps up the volume. “I listen to music that makes me happy, and I blast it. It makes me want to dance and sing,” he says. “Movement and the oxygenation of singing helps clean out the body’s chemicals.”
6. Rein in lingering worries.
If you worry outside your scheduled time, it’s okay, but give yourself a pep talk. Remind yourself that you’ll have time to worry later and not to get absorbed by your worries, Turesky says. You can even write down your worry for later so you’ll know it will be addressed, adds Gambino.
Gently remind yourself to be in the moment and focus on what you’re doing instead of worrying. “Acknowledge those worrying thoughts; then set them aside for the time being,” Rosen says. “Tell yourself, ‘I will take care of these worries later on when I have time to devote to them without distraction.’”
Instead of ruminating on every worry that pops up, Sovec recommends that you ask yourself whether you can do something about it right now. “If the answer is yes, then take that action,” he says. “If the answer is no, put it aside for your worry time.”
When to Seek Help for Worries
If you’re having trouble controlling your worries, if they become intrusive, or if you just want someone to talk to about them, it never hurts to reach out to a mental health professional who can listen and help you find strategies to cope.
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