If you thought you had control over your worrying, do you think worrying would bother you? Probably not. This week, we’re going to challenge the idea that…
Challenging your belief
In order to challenge the idea that your worrying is uncontrollable, you need to do two things…
You must first challenge the belief itself which involves dissecting the worry and identifying if it’s really accurate and true. You can ask yourself the following questions to challenge whether your belief that worrying is uncontrollable really is the case.
- What makes you think worrying is uncontrollable?
- What’s the evidence for your belief?
- Is the evidence for good/solid/reliable?
- Is there another way of viewing your belief?
- Is there any evidence that goes against your belief?
- Has your worrying ever been disrupted or interrupted? Can distraction work in the short term? What does this tell you about uncontrollability?
- Does your worrying eventually stop? How can this be if it’s uncontrollable? Shouldn’t it just go on forever if it can’t be controlled?
- Can you manipulate your worrying (i.e. increase or decrease it)?
- Does taking action ever work to stop your worrying?
- Have you ever tried to properly postpone your worrying? (i.e. not suppressing it, but allowing yourself to have a worrisome thought and decide not to worry about it at that moment?)
- Is it possible that it is controllable, but you just don’t know how to controll it yet?
You’ll also need to experiment with your belief, which means seeing if worrying really is uncontrollable. It’s hard to hold onto this belief when you prove to yourself it’s not true.
Once you’ve challenged your idea, it’s time to experiment with it. You’ll notice above we make a distinction between suppressing and postponing worry. As mentioned last week, when we have “what if” thoughts pop into our head, we tend to try to pull it closer or push it away. However, this actually just intensifies the worry. So it’s possible that your worrying is uncontrollable because you haven’t learned the right strategies to deal with it yet.
How to Postpone thinking
Set aside “Worry Time”
- Nominate a set time, length of time and place to do all your thinking about worrisome thoughts.
- Try and keep your worry time to the same everyday (i.e. 6pm for 15 minutes in the dining room). If it does need to be rescheduled on a certain day, just make sure you have a clear idea for when it will be.
- Try not to set your worry time before bed.
- When you notice yourself worrying about something during the day, remind yourself, “It’s okay to have that thought, but I don’t need to chase it any further right now.”
- List the topic of your worrisome thought briefly, only using a couple words.This will mean initially carrying a small notebook with you or jotting it down in the notes on your phone. After practise, you’ll be able to do this mentally.
- Decide to think about it later and save your thoughts for your “worry time”
- Bring your attention back to the present task at hand and reassure yourself that you will deal with the negative thoughts later.
- If and when the thought pops back up, this is not a sign that postponement hasn’t worked. Instead write it down or put a tick next to it if it’s already in your notebook, and repeat the steps listed above.
When you get to your worry time
- Only think about things you listed if you feel you must. You don’t have to think about them if they no longer bother you or no longer seem relevant.
- If you do spend time thinking about the items, only used the set time you decided on and try to do it in a productive way on paper
- If the issue bothering you is solvable, then do some problem solving on paper.
- If the issue is something you recognise you’re over reacting to, see if there’s another way you can look at the situation
- Finally, follow your worry time with something that lifts your mood (e.g. certain music, book or tv show, a walk, chatting to a friend, etc.)
It’s important to use postponement properly; if not you can’t really make any new discoveries. Below are a few examples of common pitfalls when it comes to postponement.
Suppressing or non-accepting attitude
Make sure things you say to yourself when deciding to postpone are accepting (i.e. “catch you later” or “park it for now”). Getting angry with yourself or saying things like “stop it” or “push it away” are signs you’re trying to suppress the thoughts, rather than accept them and postpone them further.
Giving up when thoughts return
A thought may only pop up once, or it could pop up again 10 more times or even 100 times. Having to repeatedly postpone the same thought doesn’t mean postponement hasn’t worked. You’re not changing what pops into your head, you’re only changing how you’re responding.
Rationalising or thinking logically when a negative thought pops up might seem like a helpful thing to do, but if it truly was helpful this strategy would have put your worries to rest a long time ago. Rationalising in the moment when a thought pops up is ultimately a way of pulling it closer to you – giving the thoughts more time and energy.
Avoiding Worry Time
Some people avoid their set aside worry time, because they think it’ll be unpleasant. Try committing to the thinking time and stick to the set limit.
Stay tuned for next week when we’ll discuss how retrain your attention, to be able to notice when it’s caught in worrying and refocus it on the present task at hand.