Worrywart, nervous Nellie, fretting Fran—whatever you call someone who worries excessively, I consider myself to be one. And if you’re like me, you can rest assured we’re not alone. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2022 report paints a bleak picture of a country riddled with anxiety and dread.
If you don’t feel like scrolling through the whole report, allow me to summarize: We’re all worried about something. Shocker, right? While it might be tempting to lean into more avoidant solutions, clinical psychologist and cognitive behavioral therapist Dr. Ali Mattu recommends diving headfirst into your distress with scheduled “worry time.”
But again, if you’re anything like me, worry time is all the time. So what’s the difference? I sat down with Dr. Mattu to find out.
What Is Worry Time?
“Worry time” has no prerequisites or rules regarding subject matter; no concern is too big or too small if it’s negatively affecting your mental, emotional, or physical health. However, there are a few recommended guidelines to make the most of this time.
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“To do worry time right, pick a time of day when you’re not distracted by other demands [and you can] get a bit emotional,” Mattu said. “In other words, don’t do worry time before an important meeting or before going to sleep. Then give yourself 5-10 minutes: less time if this scares you, more time as you become comfortable with it.”
He continued, “During this time, allow yourself to write down all your thoughts about everything you dread—all your worries, everything that’s on your mind right now. Then, during the rest of the day, if your mind starts to focus on the things you dread, remind yourself that you have worry time to focus completely on these thoughts.
“Worry time can work because it helps you get unstuck with your thoughts and focuses your attention on what really matters. As you revisit the things you wrote down, you might start to see patterns that help you gain a more accurate view of the things you dread.”
Worried About Your Worry Time?
As someone with little to no wiggle room in my daily schedule, the idea of adding time to worry (instead of worrying 24/7, which is far more efficient to my mind) is laughable. So I asked Mattu about that, too. “If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably giving your worries a LOT of your time,” he responded.
“All I’m asking you to do is try a different way of approaching your thoughts instead of ruminating about them in your mind. Even just one minute of worry time could help. And we can all find one minute somewhere in our lives—during a commute by recording into your phone, while waiting for a kettle to go off, or while sitting on the toilet.
“Our thoughts always reflect our emotions,” he explained. “When we’re anxious, our thoughts focus on disaster; when angry, everything is an injustice, and when happy, life looks great. So your thoughts are really just this background noise of the mind. Sometimes there are good bits in there, but a lot of the time, it’s just noise.”
Mattu concluded by saying, “You can’t control what thoughts your mind produces, but you do have some control over how much focus you give them. Techniques like worry time can help you learn how to give your thoughts a bit less of your time and focus on what really matters—the stuff going on outside of your head.”
So I suppose there’s just one thing left to worry about—when will you schedule your worry time?