Girl thinking while looking at notebook

Worry Smarter

By Lucie Hemmen, PhD, author of The Teen Girl’s Survival Journal

Worry is a thinking habit that causes a lot of anxiety. It constitutes thoughts that range from nagging concerns to intense preoccupation about what might happen. When it takes over your thoughts, you may experience sleeplessness, feelings of doom, an inability to eat, and the whole array of anxious symptoms. Ugh, why?!? Like many bad mental health habits, worry has good intentions. At some point in your life, your brain decided that worrying was a productive activity. Most likely because you didn’t like feeling surprised, vulnerable, or out of control, your brain stepped in with a “solution.”

What your brain didn’t realize is that every time you imagined a scary or upsetting scenario to worry about, another part of your brain reacted by releasing stress hormones to prepare you for action. If you were in real danger, those chemicals would help you to run or fight. Since worry involves perceived danger (not in-the-moment actual danger), those stress chemicals stay in your body, causing symptoms of anxiety.

Seems like any habit that causes so much suffering should be immediately squashed, right? Suppressing thoughts and feelings never works, which is why you’re working on noticing, naming, and accepting all your thoughts and feelings. From there, you’re practicing finding where feelings are in your body, attending and befriending them, and eventually redirecting your focus and actions in a healthy way. You’re building a solid foundation and are ready for a new mental health habit designed specifically for worry!

For this challenge, you are asked to designate fifteen minutes each day to actually dedicate to worrying. That’s right, it’s counterintuitive, but it works! Just as you’d tell a friend or a family member, “Hey, I can’t talk about that now. It’s not helpful,” you’ll make a similar boundary with worry thoughts. (Yes, you can make boundaries with your thoughts!)

When worries pop up at other times during the day or night, you’ll notice, name, and accept that they’re happening. Then you’ll make your boundary, letting them know they must wait until the next designated time of day for worrying. Be firm, as if you were babysitting a small child pestering you for a brownie before lunch. Once you’ve said no, carry on with a more productive focus.

Your designated worry time can change each day, depending on your schedule. Make sure it’s not first thing in the morning or before bed, and make sure to be strict with stopping yourself at a fifteen-minute time limit. During worry time, write down every worry thought that pops into your head. Think of it as purging your mind of every worry thought, removing worries from your head and relocating them onto the paper. When you are done, pause. Take a nice, deep breath, making the exhale just a little longer than your inhale.

Now, look at your list more objectively. Cross out any items that seem insignificant, or that you realize don’t have much weight. For the remaining ones, decide whether there is an action you can take or a plan you can make to address or resolve the worry.

For example, Erika addressed her worry about going back to school after a breakup: “I was worried about how to handle seeing my ex and how things might feel awkward in our mutual friend group. So, I made a plan to walk onto campus being my normal self. No matter how my ex acted, I planned to say hello to show both him and my friend group that it didn’t have to be weird. As soon as I made that plan and even visualized it, I felt better.”

This challenge is so effective, you can practice it for life! To get you started, use the worry sheets that follow. After you use them up, you can start a notebook or even a note in your phone, dedicated to worrying smarter.

PP.128-129 Excerpt taken from The Teen Girl’s Survival Journal

Lucie Hemmen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. For more than twenty years she has worked with teens, their parents, and their communities in programs designed to maximize health and well-being. She is mother of two daughters, and author of Parenting a Teen Girl, The Teen Girl’s Survival Guide, and The Teen Girl’s Anxiety Survival Guide.

Sign Up for Our Email List

New Harbinger is committed to protecting your privacy. It's easy to unsubscribe at any time.

Recent Posts

Quick Tips for Therapists