It’s 2:15am. Your body is heavy with fatigue, your muscles tense. The world outside the window is silent and still, but the one inside your head is frenzied. The email you forgot to send. The comment you made to your boss. The permission slip you have to sign for your kids’ excursion. The friends’ birthday you have to remember. It’s definitely in your diary, but… is it?
We all have different means of trying to shush that occasional late-night cacophony. Reading. Deep breathing. Podcasts. Mindless scrolling through social media. But for some with anxiety disorders, that feeling creeps beyond the odd restless night or stressful week. It’s an every day (multiple times a day) reality. Repetitive, intrusive.
But some argue it can be eased by a technique called “worry time”.
The idea sounds incredibly simple: Schedule a designated period of time to worry each day – say, 20 minutes at 6pm. Any worries that creep into your head before that, postpone them.
According to the Western Australian Government’s Centre for Clinical Interventions, “by learning to postpone your worry, it will be less intrusive in your life and you will be managing your worry effectively, giving you a greater sense of control.”
It advises the following steps:
- “Note your worry briefly on paper. Just a couple of words;
- “Remind yourself that you will have time to think about it later, no need to worry about it now;
- “Turn your focus to the present moment and the activities of the day to help let go of the worry until the worry period has arrived.
- “Decide what is the most important and best thing you can practically do for yourself right now. Take immediate action to do something that is either practical, positive, pleasant, active or nurturing.”
Then, when worry time rolls around, pull out your notes and decide whether your worries must be attended to. If they must, spend no long than your allotted time considering them (perhaps set an alarm). If it’s helpful to you, write your thoughts down.
Mental health organisation, Reach Out, is one of many in the space that advocates for the technique. It’s even produced a worry time app in conjunction with the CCI.
But does it work?
Several studies have supported the idea. Research published in the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in 2011, for example, found that individuals who postponed their worry and considered it during a designated time reported a reduction in feelings of anxiety and concern.
As the CCI notes, “typically people predict that they won’t be able to postpone their worrying, but often people are surprised that they are actually able to postpone many of their worries, and experience a greater sense of control.”
Plus side: you now have a thing you can ‘put off’ without any guilt. No worries.