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Changing the ways you worry

A momentary worry is not much of a problem. All of us experience them. The trouble comes with how we react to worries. If we follow those noises, if we embellish their story line, if we dwell on the details and let ourselves become upset, then we are bringing on trouble.

Here are a couple of techniques for reducing your attachment to your worries. Remember that the principle behind these techniques is that your are disrupting a thought pattern that is unnecessary, irrelevant and intrusive. You first declare that these worries are noise, then you intervene with one of these techniques. The primary benefit of these two techniques is to change your emotional response to the thoughts -- to help you feel any other emotion beside anxiety.

Write down your worries

How might you change your emotions toward your worries? The first way is to write them down. Carry a pencil and a small pad with you throughout the day. When you begin the noisy worries, write down your exact thoughts. If you continue worried thoughts, keep writing. This doesn't mean a summary of what you said in your mind. This means a verbatim transcript of exactly what you're thinking. As soon as you finish writing down the worry, if you think it again, write it down again, even if it's verbatim what you just wrote down. Act as though you are the stenographer in the courtroom.  Every single utterance goes on paper!  Don't write down the theme, write down every single repetition of every single worried thought.

Now what's the benefit here? When you worry, you tend to repeat the same content again and again, right? When you write down the worries, you recognize how repetitive and senseless they are. This perspective quiets the noise. After a while you will probably experience the task -- of writing verbatim all the content -- as a chore. Most of us know how easy it is to mentally repeat some worry, like, "I hope this (whatever) turns out." It's easy to say it in your head 400 times. It's a lot harder to write over and over again, "I hope this turns out. What if it doesn't? Gosh, I hope it turns out. But what if it doesn't?" There's no way you can write it 400 times . . . it loses its power. Writing it down makes worrying into an arduous task. It becomes more work to actively worry than to let it go.

That's how the writing will help you. After several extended writing sessions you are more likely to say, "OK, I'm worrying. Now I'm either going to start writing it, or I'm just going to let it go. I can either go through all the bother of writing these worthless thoughts, or just stop worrying right now."

One special note: Don't wait until you want to do this task. Few people are ever in the mood to write out their worries. Start this and other interventions because you are ready to get stronger, regardless of your mood or interest.

Sing a worried tune.

Another way to begin changing your emotional response to your noisy worries is to sing them. (OK, stop laughing and let me explain.) Pick up a short phrase that summarizes your worry. Ignore its meaning for a while. Continue to repeat the words, but do so within a simple melody. Keep up this tune for several minutes. Whenever you feel you are less emotionally involved with these thoughts, let go of the tune and the words. Turn your attention elsewhere.

That sounds pretty silly, doesn't it? Here you are, suffering from very distressing thoughts, and I ask you to hum a few bars. But that's the idea. The process of singing your worries makes it difficult to simultaneously stay distressed. Yes, it's stupid. Yes, it sounds childish. Do it anyway!!

And here's how to do it. Pick up a short phrase that summarizes your obsession. Ignore its meaning for a while. Continue to repeat the words, but do so within a simple melody. Keep up this tune for a few minutes. Whenever you feel less emotionally involved with these thoughts, let go of the tune and the words. Turn your attention elsewhere.

I don't expect that you will start singing this little tune and instantly feel happy. In fact, it will probably be hard to feel anything but anxiety when you start singing. But stick with it. And while you're singing, work to become detached from the content of your song. Remember, that's our goal.