Keeping Anxiety in Its Place

I was recently invited to give a talk to a group of clients from a financial planning firm. These successful people had good jobs, adequate savings and potentially rich lives. They were in no danger of losing it all in the current market situation, but there was an awful lot of worry and anxiety in the room.

Worry and anxiety are fear of something that might happen in the future; fear of something that hasn’t happened, isn’t happening and may never happen. When we allow worry to become a major player in our life, we are letting our fear of the future hijack our enjoyment of the present.

I wanted to give my audience some simple, practical methods to reduce their worries so I shared a technique with them that I teach some of my therapy clients.

Corral your worries into a specific time and place. Since worry is focused on a vague and uncertain time and event in the future, it isn’t anchored to any particular time and place now and therefore it can easily begin to creep into all your activities and situations. It’s crucial that you find away to give yourself a break from it.

Trying to ignore a worry is often no more effective than trying to not think about white elephants.  Thinking about not thinking is thinking about it. You get the idea. So I suggest you try giving the worry a specific time and place all of its own. Make an appointment to worry.

Imagine looking at your calendar. Choose a time when you will bring your attention to worries. For example, you can decide that you will worry from 3 to 3:30 every other day. When you find yourself starting to worry at any other time, your job is to stop, notice what’s happening and promise to spend time worrying tomorrow between 3 and 3:30. Then you attempt to return to a productive or pleasurable activity. If the worry comes up again, you note it and promise to spend time at the next designated worry appointment . If you have multiple worries, keep a list of all the things you want to worry about during your scheduled time so you don’t forget any.

For this to work you have to fulfill your commitment to actually take the time to worry. You won’t put the worry aside if you know you might not take the time to focus on it later. Keep your appointment and worry. You may find that worry takes another form; it might end up being less like diffuse fretting and more like actual problems to be attended to. Build credibility with yourself and follow through by paying attention to whatever is on your mind that is concerning and preoccupying. Write, talk out loud—whatever is the best form of attending to your worries.

Each time you put aside the worry and make it wait for its time, you develop your ability to do that with less effort the next time. It’s like exercising in order to build a “wait for it” muscle. The new pattern begins to build new circuitry in your brain and it becomes easier and easier.

For more information about managing worry and anxiety you’re welcome to call for an appointment.  978-446-9600 or send me an email with your contact information.

 Szifra Birke 

(My name only looks impossible; it’s pronounced SHifra).