Take control of your anxiety by worrying on a schedule.

Manage Your Anxiety by Scheduling It

Scheduling your worry may sound counter-intuitive or impossible.  Most of us have the idea that anxiety is an all-powerful thing that overtakes us like a tsunami and we have no control over it at all.  Certainly, if you’ve ever had a panic attack, it feels like this is 100% true.  But cognitive behavioral therapy challenges the notion that we have to remain powerless in the face of those things that cause us stressful concern.  The truth is that we can stage a series of uprisings against chronic worry, meant to undermine and overthrow the tyranny of fretting.

One tactic: schedule time to be anxious.  One of the things that makes worry feel so powerful is that it seems to have no boundaries.  It can wake us up in the middle of the night, interrupt a family dinner, creep into our conversations, dominate our to-do list, and sit on our shoulder at a business meeting.  Making a date with your anxious thoughts — and yes, it needs to be a real time that you put on your daily calendar — can give them the respect they crave but without allowing them to overtake your entire day.

How do we do this?

Find a pocket of time every day (1/2 hour to an hour) when you’re alone with your thoughts. (Some people choose their commute home from work or after their kids are in bed.)  Make sure you write it down and maintain it as a serious commitment, like a doctor’s appointment or a business meeting — something you would only reschedule under unusual circumstances.  You also need to make sure that you create or have a natural signal that worry time is over.  Examples of natural signals to turn off worry include: when you turn off the ignition after your commute, you see your front door after your walk from the Metro, or you hear the alarm on your phone go off.

Throughout the day, when a worry flares up, jot it down on your Notes file on your phone or write it in a travel journal and say to yourself, “I’m going to think about that at 5 PM during worry time.”  Like a bad guest at the holidays, it may keep creeping up and trying to insert itself into the rest of your day but stay tough, and keep telling it to hang on until your worry appointment.

Then at the appointed time, you MUST hold to your promise and give the worry its due.  Review your notes and spend some time thinking about everything you need to worry about.  Like with any good experiment, reflect on how it’s going.  What’s it like to spend deliberate time worrying? How long can you do it without letting your mind wander?  Does it feel different than letting the worry dictate the terms?  When the signal comes that worry time is over, put the notes away and think, “I’ll see you again tomorrow at 5.”  Try this for two weeks and see whether your relationship with worry changes at all.  Who has the upper hand after all — you or the things you worry about?

Need More Help?

Meditation might be a wonderful thing for you to try in order to diffuse your worry.  Here are some free meditations, courtesy of Nova Terra Therapy.  You can also try some beneficial apps like Worry Watch and Mindshift that may help with your anxiety.

If you’re finding it hard to confront the worry on your own and you’d like some CBT coaching, please check my online scheduler to make an appointment or send me an email at elizabeth@novaterratherapy.com.  Sometimes fighting worry with the help of a professional ally can make all the difference.

Elizabeth Brokamp, LPC, is a cognitive-behavioral therapist in Burke, Virginia, who loves writing, hiking, and spending time with her family.