Teen Breathe

How setting aside ‘worry time’ could help you to reduce your anxiety

Do you ever find yourself lying in bed, struggling to sleep while you fret about the future? Or maybe you regularly feel a tug of anxiety as you think back on things that you wish had happened differently? If you see yourself as a persistent worrier, something known as the ‘worry time technique’ could be worth a try. It might sound strange and a little counterintuitive, but setting aside time to allow these thoughts to surface sometimes helps you deal with anxiety. How does it work? Read on to find out.
WORDS: Caroline Butterwick
ILLUSTRATION: Alessandra De Cristofaro

Why you should schedule your ‘worry time’

Scheduling a short, regular worry time is one way to prevent negative thoughts from dominating the rest of your day. It’s a tool that’s sometimes used by health professionals to help people tackle their concerns and let their worries go.

Catherine Hallissey, a chartered psychologist from the Republic of Ireland, regularly suggests this technique to clients. ‘When you worry throughout the day, your stress-response system gets activated,’ she says. ‘Your body releases special fuel to power your body up, so you can run for your life or fight for it.’

Welcoming in your worries at a specific time instead will hopefully help you think about them less during the rest of your waking hours. It’s also likely to make them more manageable.

‘By limiting your worries to worry time, you give your stress-response system a rest, which gives your brain and body a chance to recover from the stress hormones,’ says Catherine. ‘If worries pop into your head at other times, you tell yourself: “I’ll think about that during worry time,” and then get busy doing something else.’

How to confront your negative thoughts and take positive action during ‘worry time’

Catherine adds: ‘The best way to use worry time is to challenge your negative thoughts, to see if they’re true or false, likely or unlikely, helpful or unhelpful. It’s especially beneficial if you have a journal or another person to help you do this.’

During this time, it can be useful to think about whether there’s anything you can do to address a worry. So, if you’re nervous about going to a party because you’re anxious about meeting new people, is there a friend who could come with you? Or, if you’re stressed out by schoolwork, is there a teacher you could turn to for advice and support?

‘While it can be hard to get started, once you practise it on a daily basis, you’ll notice your worries start to gradually reduce,’ says Catherine.

Why it’s important to ask for help in managing your anxiety if you need it

While it’s normal to feel anxious sometimes, if you regularly feel overwhelmed or upset, it’s important to ask for help. Talk to your parents, a teacher or a school counsellor or nurse, who’ll be able to get you the support you need.

Worry and anxiety are really common experiences, but there’s lots that can be done to lighten the load. As Catherine says: ‘Remember that while anxiety is the most common mental health condition, it’s also the most treatable and it’s so important to get the help you need’.

A handy guide to making the most of your worry time

Pick your moment: To start, try setting your worry time at around 15 minutes a day. Catherine suggests a quiet period when you’re unlikely to have other pressures.

Don’t be late: It’s best to keep it separate from bedtime, as otherwise it could interfere with your sleep.

Find a soothing space: Try to choose somewhere calming, where you feel safe and secure and won’t be interrupted. If possible, avoid using your bedroom as you may start to associate the space with worries.

Shake it off: ‘When your scheduled slot is over and the timer goes off, it’s important to get busy doing something else,’ says Catherine. ‘It’s even better if you move your body as this helps to reset your nervous system.’

Plan ahead: Try to have an enjoyable activity lined up for afterwards, whether that’s going for a walk, speaking to a friend or watching your favourite TV show.

Stick with it: It can take a while to get used to using worry time. Try to keep it asa regular part of your routine, and hopefully you’ll notice the difference it makes.

Read more about handy life skills in Teen Breathe issue 45.