Tip Sheet: What, Me Worry?

How to worry realistically

By Jordan Davidson, published on January 1, 2014 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

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You can stop disquieting thoughts before they spin out of control.

1. Don't exaggerate.

Hyperbole is your enemy. Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., the author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety, suggests taking red ink to your worry list to tone down the extremes and introduce accuracy and detail instead. If you start with the worry, "Nobody likes me," by the time you're down, you may have landed on the more reasonable, "My boss might not like my latest report."

2. Use a metaphor.

It works, says Robert Leahy, Ph.D., author of The Worry Cure. For example, imagine the departures board at a train station, and each of the listed trains is one of your worries. They come and go on and off the board, but you don't have to board any of them. As your worries leave the station, you can focus on the present rather than an uncertain future.

3. Make a schedule.

You can make unwieldy ruminations manageable by setting aside 20 scheduled "worry minutes" each day. And if you notice anxiety-inducing thoughts creeping in at other times, don't get sucked into a worry spiral: Jot them down, set them aside, and return to them at the designated time.

4. Repeat—but don't escalate.

Ride an elevator up and down over and over and you'll quickly get bored. You can take the same approach to beat a nagging thought, Leahy says. Just repeat your worry to yourself slowly: "I'm so getting fired. I'm so getting fired...." The monotony will likely soon make your mind wander to more stimulating and enjoyable thoughts.