This exercise is especially effective when you can’t sleep or when you experience anxiety attacks. If you worry a lot, or obsessively think about future events and problems when you should be concentrating on other things, follow these simple steps:
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1. Write it down. If you’re feeling anxious or worried, or you can’t stop thinking about some event that hasn’t happened yet, take a few moments to write down whatever is worrying you. If you can’t write it down, think it through carefully until you can clearly say what you’re worrying about. Clarifying your worries will stop the free-floating sensation of anxiety with no basis.
2. Evaluate. Think about the first item on your list. Ask yourself “Is there anything I can do about it now?” If you’re at home and worrying about the office, or if the problem won’t occur until next week or next year, you may not be able to do anything about it right now. Or, you may be worrying about a problem you can do something about, such as calling someone, or getting an estimate of costs, or making a doctor’s appointment to check out a worrisome symptom.
3. Do Something. If there is something you can do, do it. Sometimes, worry is a way to procrastinate. Often, worry is a way to keep a mental list going, as in “I’m worried that I’ll forget to bring the slides for the presentation tomorrow.”
—If you’re worrying about how your presentation will go at work tomorrow, go over your notes and lay out your clothes for the morning.
—If you’re worried about a health problem, look up the illness or injury on the Internet, or call your doctor and ask some questions.
—If you’re at work worrying and about cooking dinner when you get home, write down a menu or a list of ingredients.
—If you’re worried that you may be fired, update your resume and call some agencies. You don’t have to take another job, but if there’s a real problem you’ll be prepared.
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Here’s an example: If you’re worried that the roof may leak the next time it rains, start making a list about what you can do about it. Your inner dialog may sound like this:
“The news said it was going to rain next week. I’m worried that the roof might leak.”:
“Call a roofing company and have them look at it.”
“I’m worried that a roofing company will charge me more than they should because I don’t know how much it should cost.”
“Call my brother, (or my neighbor, or my friend) who had his roof done, and ask him what it costs, and also if he liked the contractor he used.”
When you reach this “okay”, it’s time to make the call, or, if it’s too late at night, make a note to call the next day.
4. Distract Yourself. When you’ve done what you can, or made your lists or notes, then distract yourself: Get busy doing something else, or read, or take a walk or a bath.
Repeat the above steps every time you catch yourself worrying.