We know that almost all of us will worry about something at some time, but 38% of people say that they worry every day. One way to think about problematic worry is to realize that it is simply repetitive negative thinking about the future. It’s not just one thought — “Maybe my presentation won’t go well.” No, it’s a repetitive focus on this thought to the exclusion of other things in your life.

So, what can you do?

In my book, The Worry Cure, I describe seven steps that you can take to cope with your worries. But for this week’s, let’s look at a few things that you can do.

  1. What do I hope to get by repetitive worry? You might say, “Nothing”, but research on worry shows that people think that worry will prepare them, so that they won’t be surprised. They might even be able to use worry to solve a problem. There is a grain of truth in this. Sometimes some worry is helpful. But is it working for you or is it making you miserable?
  2. Productive and Unproductive Worry. I would suggest that you think about your worry as either Productive Worry or Unproductive Worry. Productive worry leads to to-do lists. For example, next week I am giving a lecture at a conference on envy. My to-do list today is to review my Powerpoint slides. That’s something that I can do right now. Unproductive worry is about things I can’t do anything about today. For example, “Will people not like what I say?” That’s unproductive worry because I can’t do anything about it.
  3. Accept Uncertainty. If it’s unproductive worry, then I can learn to accept uncertainty and lack of control for the present moment. You already accept uncertainty every hour of the week. You accept uncertainty when you order food in a new restaurant, travel, start a conversation, read an article, or watch a film. Worriers often equate uncertainty with a bad outcome. But uncertainty is really neutral. Not knowing for sure doesn’t mean that things will turn out badly. It just means you don’t know right now. And worry won’t give you certainty anyway.
  4. Bore yourself with your worries. This technique requires that you repeat your negative thought hundreds of times until it is boring. Set aside a quiet time, repeat the negative thought (“People won’t like my talk”), and watch how the thought becomes boring.
  5. Set aside a time to worry. Book an appointment with your unproductive worry. Rather than worry 24 hours a day, set aside 20 minutes where you collect all the worries throughout the day and night and focus on them. Is it productive to worry about this? Is there a to-do list? Can I accept uncertainty? Can I practice the boredom technique?

Coping with worry takes time. It doesn’t just evaporate because you have an insight. Practicing techniques to respond to these intrusive thoughts can help you put these thoughts in perspective so that you can stress less about your worries.

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