A father checks on his son during a forest hike.Worry is a cycle of repetitive, negative thoughts that some people may find difficult to stop on their own. While most people worry from time to time, chronic worrying can have a serious impact on one’s wellbeing. If you feel as though worries have taken over your life, therapy can help you get worrying under control.

TREATING WORRY IN THERAPY

Treatment strategies for worrying may depend on what is causing your worries. 

Sometimes worry is caused by a mental health condition such as generalized anxiety. In these cases, treating the underlying diagnosis can lead to less frequent worrying. If your worries stem from past abuse or loss, trauma-centered therapy or grief counseling may be particularly helpful.

Other times, worry has a clear external cause such as workplace issues or relationship stress. A therapist can teach you to cope with the anxiety resulting from these stressors. They may also help you devise strategies to solve the underlying problem.

If your worries are caused by general stress or anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be appropriate. CBT can help you notice when you are worrying and quit the cycle of negative thinking. A therapist may teach you how to tolerate uncertainty and rethink the usefulness of worry. 

Therapy cannot completely erase worries from your life, but it can help you keep worrying to manageable levels. With patience and hard work, it is possible to replace worrying with healthier coping methods.

TIPS TO OVERCOME WORRYING

Here are several tips to help you stop worrying:

  • Accept that you can’t control everything. Sometimes bad things are inevitable. Worry typically does not prevent a negative outcome.
  • Make a plan. Decide on a few simple actions you will take if the feared scenario happens. This can help you keep negative consequences to a minimum. For example, if you are worried about catching the flu, you could keep your doctor’s phone number nearby and plan to call them if you get symptoms.
  • Designate a set time for worries. Try setting aside 10-15 minutes each day to consider your worries. If you find yourself worrying outside this period, tell yourself that you will think about the problem in your next worry session. This strategy can help you avoid thinking about your fears all day. 
  • Make a worry diary. Write down your specific fears, what happened to make you start worrying, and how severe the worries are. By looking at your diary entries over time, you may find themes and patterns you didn’t expect. A diary can also give you a rough idea of how much time a day you spend worrying (It is probably more than you think.).
  • Exercise and eat well. Maintaining physical wellness may improve your mood and help you keep a positive outlook. 
  • Do something you enjoy. Pleasant activities can be a useful distraction in times of stress. They may not solve your problems directly, but they can break the spiral of negative thought and help you relax
  • Talk it out. Sometimes our fears can seem bigger in the echo chamber of our anxious minds. Consider discussing your concerns with someone you trust. 

A trained therapist can help you develop coping strategies that fit your unique situation.

CASE EXAMPLES OF THERAPY FOR WORRY

  • Constantly worried adolescent girl: Frieda, 11, worries nearly nonstop about her school work, the health of her pet cat, and the weather, among other things. After a few sessions of play therapy, themes in Frieda’s imagination begin to unfold: suppressed anger, scary monsters, and going to heaven. A family history reveals her father’s struggle with alcohol and her mother’s reliance on religious faith to cope. Although her father is now sober, Frieda fears a return to the chaos of her early childhood. She copes by hiding in a world of fantasy and religious fear. Through play therapy and facilitated conversation with her mother and father, Frieda begins to regain a sense of trust in the ability of herself and her parents to help her stay safe.
  • Persistent worry resulting from a desire to be perfect: Jordan, 50, takes a leave of absence from work and enters therapy to deal with his excessive worrying. He describes himself as “a perfectionist” and is very self-critical if he completes any work assignment less than perfectly. When he feels that he has not completed an assignment perfectly, he worries about looking bad or sloppy, receiving a reprimand from his boss, or potentially being fired for turning in poor-quality work. Jordan often stays late to review his work and projects, and he experiences fatigue due to lack of rest. Therapy helps him recognize his deep-rooted lifelong need to please his parents, which has turned him into a workaholic. Jordan's therapist helps him gain an understanding of his own needs and work through his fear of failure so that he can allow himself to enjoy life.

References:

  1. Freeman, D., & Freeman, J. (2014, January 9). Don't worry, be happy: Overcoming worry may be key to mental health. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/jan/09/worry-happy-mental-health
  2. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). (n.d.).  Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/generalized_anxiety_disorder.htm
  3. McCoy, D. (2002). The Evolution of Worry. Retrieved from http://www.psychnet-uk.com/x_new_site/readers_articles/worry.html
  4. Recording and classifying my worries. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.anxietycanada.com/adults/recording-and-classifying-my-worries
  5. Sollitto, M. (2010, December 11). Sick with worry: How thoughts affect your health. Retrieved from http://www.agingcare.com/Articles/health-problems-caused-by-stress-143376.htm