It’s fair to say many of us have probably spent more time worrying than ever before since the coronavirus pandemic began. If you’ve ever been pigeon holed as a first class worrier then you will be able to relate to the reality of just how exhausting and distracting constant worrying can be. At its worst, it can be totally debilitating and can start to impact your day-to-day life from work productivity to maintaining relationships. Leading Consultant Psychiatrist and author of The Mind Medic, Dr Sarah Vohra, is passionate about helping clients tune into their 5 senses to reclaim their mental wellbeing. Below she shares her “Worry Curfew” strategy that aims to help people overcome constant, unhelpful worrying whilst learning to separate productive and unproductive worrying.
I developed the worry curfew as a way of giving my patients permission to worry but allowing them to be in control of when they do it, to avoid it causing too much disruption to their day. The worry curfew is about giving yourself a set window in the day during which you can do your ‘might not’ worrying. (Note: ‘might not’ worries are usually those that you’ve catastrophized in your head that may never even happen!).
When you catch yourself worrying in the day, ask yourself: ‘Is this something that I can do anything about right now, i.e. a problem-solving worry?’ If it isn’t, then say out loud (or quietly to yourself if you would rather): ‘This is a “might not” worry. I’m not going to worry about it now, but I will save it for my curfew later on in the day.’ Quickly jot it down in the notes section of your phone or in a journal to come back to during your curfew.
Even if you find the same worry popping into your mind throughout the day, repeat the process. Briefly acknowledge it, jot it down and come back to it later. While it may seem repetitive, it will help reinforce the pattern that ‘might not’ worries need to be postponed to your curfew.
Similarly, if you find yourself worrying most in the evening, to the extent that it is impacting your sleep, temporarily park these worries, jot them down in your journal and come back to them during your worry curfew.
During your worry curfew:
Review your list of worries. You now have permission to worry freely about these for the next [insert minutes allocated].
Strike out anything no longer worrying you. Jot down what continuing to have worried about this during the day might have done, e.g. could have wasted time, could have fallen behind with work.
Classify each worry as either a problem-solving or a ‘might not’ worry. For the most part, the worries you jot down for your curfew will be ‘might not’ worries, but if you have had some late-night worrying that is affecting your ability to sleep, you may temporarily park a problem-solving worry until the morning, when you can look at it and identify a solution.
Once your worry time is complete, tear off the paper from your journal, screw it up and throw it away. Or if you are going digital, delete the note from the notes section of your phone and from your archive. Start afresh the following day.
Practice makes perfect. You may find that the first few times you try this exercise you feel a little awkward, just worrying about worrying for a finite period of time each day; but what you will notice is that you will worry less frequently during the day because of the understanding that you have ‘time to do it later’. You may also become more productive during the day because you are able to identify the worries that can be turned into problems and actioned immediately. And for those ‘might not’ worries, by the time ‘later’ rolls around, some of those worries may no longer be of relevance to you and may even be struck off your list.