What to Do With Worry
Therapy helps people figure out when worry is helpful and when it's hurtful.
Posted Oct 04, 2019
An oversimplistic view of therapy is that clinicians help some of their clients to worry more and others to worry less. Often, we’re trying to help the same person worry more about certain things (e.g., unhealthy behaviors) and less about others (e.g., things they can’t control), so that they can live in line with their values and goals.
The diagram below is designed to assist with decision-making about worry. Driving (with the feared outcome of a car accident) is used as an example, but other situations also fit into the framework (e.g., an upcoming exam, a past social interaction).
Here are some suggested steps to take once you get to the end of the diagram:
Use worry to guide your actions.
If your lack of worry leaves you unprepared or puts you in harmful situations...
- Learn more about the potential negative effects of your actions or inaction.
- Explore the downsides of avoiding worry (e.g., pushing possible negative outcomes out of your mind).
- Make the negative consequences more salient (e.g., keep a list on your phone that you can easily access in moments when you need reminders).
- Use problem-solving to reduce obstacles to useful levels of worry (e.g., impulsive decision-making).
Don’t let worry guide your actions.
If worry interferes with your enjoyment of life or activities you value...
- Reduce the influence of worry through exposure.
- Challenge thinking errors (e.g., probability overestimation) through cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques.
- Increase your tolerance for uncertainty.
- Relate to your thoughts in ways that give them less power.