How to Challenge Worries
How to Challenge Worries

Our thoughts are very important and can greatly impact how we feel. Think of how your thoughts tend to differ between you’re feeling happy and when you’re feeling sad. So it’s not a situation itself that determines how we feel, but the thoughts, meanings and interpretations we attach to that situation.

The Thinking-Feeling Connection

As mentioned in previous posts, worrying is a type of thought process where you engage in repetitive negative and catastrophic thinking about things you predict could happen. When you’re often worrying, this can lead to difficult emotions and unpleasant physical sensations. One way to overcome this is to challenge these thoughts, instead of just accepting them as true.

For example, Imagine you’re in school and you’ve been told you have a pop quiz on Monday. Below are three different ways of thinking about the same situation and the different emotions, behaviour and physical sensations that would result from thinking in these different ways.

Example Event: Being told you have a pop quiz
EmotionsBehaviourPhysical
Thought 1: I love quizzes! I know this stuff quite well, so I think I'll do fine!HappyDo a bit of revisionQuite Relaxed
Thought 2: I don't know anything, I am going to fail for sure.Anxious
Sad
Try to study hard, can't concentrate,
don't get much done
Sick in stomach
Tense
Thought 3: So what? I don't care. This subject isn't important anyway.NeutralDo no studyQuite Relaxed

As you can see, something as simple as the way we think about a situation can drastically change how we experience it. When such a negative thinking style, such as in thought 2 above, is constantly bothering you, emotions like anxiety may result and you may experience unpleasant physical sensations. One way to life those negative emotions and unpleasant bodily sensations and get you back to doing things, is to challenge the worrisome thoughts.

Helpful Thinking Diary

The helpful thinking diary will guide you in developing more helpful ways of thinking. If you’re not used to challenging your thought process, this guide can be useful. It’s important that when going through this exercise, you write down the responses on pen and paper.

Identify your worry

  • What is it you’re worried about?
  • What are the worrisome thoughts associated with this?
  • What are you predicting will happen? How much do you believe this will happen (0-100%)?
  • What emotion(s) are you feeling? Rate the intensity from 0-100%

Helpful Thinking

  • What is the evidence for your prediction?
  • What is the evidence against your prediction?
  • What is the worst case scenario that could happen? If that did happen, how would you cope?
  • What is the best case scenario that could happen?
  • What is the mostly like thing that will happen?
  • What are the consequences of worrying about this?
  • What is a more helpful way to view the situation? What advice would you give to a friend feeling this way?

Helpful Conclusion

  • A more balanced and helpful thought to replace my worry is:
  • How much do you believe your original prediction now (0-100%)?
  • How intense are your emotions now (0-100%)?

As you go through this exercise, you’ll like start to believe your original prediction less, and as a result your emotions will feel less intense. It will take time and practise, but the more often you use this technique, the less anxiety you should experience.

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

This article was adapted from:

Saulsman, L., Nathan. P., Lim, L., Correia, H., Anderson, R. & Campbell, B. (2015). What? Me Worry!?! Mastering your worries. Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions.

How to Turn Worry into Helpful Thinking
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