Are you a worrier? Do you tend to experience more anxiety than your friends or family? Are there times when you feel like you can’t control your worries?
There are many different types of anxiety disorders including specific phobias (e.g., fear of heights, fear of spiders), social anxiety disorder, panic disorders, and more. People who tend to worry about a lot of things a lot of the time and have a hard time controlling their worry are often diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.
If you find yourself having trouble controlling your worries on more days than not and it’s been going on for at least 6 months, there’s a good chance you have GAD. Other symptoms that you might notice are being extra irritable, having trouble focusing, having trouble sleeping, feeling on edge, feeling exhausted, having muscle tension, or feeling restless. Thankfully, there is treatment for GAD that can be highly effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is such treatment with a great deal of research showing its effectiveness for GAD. CBT for GAD often includes relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and other strategies to help you better control your worries.
One of my favorite tools for managing the uncontrollable side of GAD is called Worry Time. Worry time is a simple tool to describe but harder to implement. If done regularly though, it can be incredibly helpful to help people decrease the amount of time they spend worrying. The general approach is to schedule a time every day for about 20-25 minutes which you designate as worry time. Throughout the rest of your day, anytime you find yourself starting to worry, you remind yourself that now is not the time and that you will deal with this later. This frees up your time during the day to focus on other things. During worry time, I usually advise my clients to try journaling, starting by just writing out each worry thought you had during the day. For things that actually need to be addressed, spend some time problem-solving and coming up with solutions. For things that you can’t fix, either today at all, just write them out and acknowledge that they’re worries that you can’t change. I encourage folks to schedule worry time towards the end of the day but not too close to bedtime. If it’s too close to bedtime, it can fire you up enough to interfere with sleep. On the other hand, doing worry time earlier in the evening can free up your anxiety so it’s easier to sleep at night.
Some common questions or concerns that come up around worry time:
- I won’t be able to stop my anxiety when it happens to hold it until worry time.
- That’s okay! Part of this strategy is to practice controlling your worry. If you practice worry time daily, after 1-2 weeks, you’ll notice that the time between anxious moments gets longer so you are worrying less. Like learning any new skill, worry time takes practice so I never expect someone to do this perfectly right away. In therapy, you’ll learn other strategies to help manage your anxiety and you can use those to help when the worries start to take over.
- I won’t be able to stop myself from worrying once worry time ends
- Similar to the above answer, practice makes (almost) perfect. At first it probably will be hard, but over time, it will get easier. In addition, you will learn addition skills in therapy that you can to use to help stop yourself when worry time is done.
- I’ll forget all my worries by the time worry time rolls around
- Is that such a bad thing? If they are things that you need to problem-solve and come up with a solution for, you can write them down so you remember. But many people with GAD tend to worry a lot about things that they don’t need to – or can’t – solve so if you forget about it by the time worry time comes, it’s okay!
- I don’t have time set aside for this!
- Worry time can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as 30. I don’t advise going longer than that. I have found that with planning, most people can find at least 10 minutes every day for this. I have also found that many people find it so helpful that after the first few times, it becomes easier to find the time because it’s something they start to look forward to.
If you find yourself worrying all the time and have a hard time stopping it, you may find worry time helpful. While it can be incredibly useful on its own, many people, particularly if you have GAD, benefit more from learning additional coping strategies and working with a therapist. If you think you may have GAD or want to learn more about how CBT may be able to help you, reach out to me today!