How Fragile is Worry?

How Fragile is Worry?

Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2012.  All rights reserved.

Perhaps your worry is more fragile, or easier to “break” than you’ve previously assumed…  Here are some experiments to carry out. 

Rating Beliefs

Start by rating how strongly you currently hold the following beliefs about worry (0-100%):

  1. My worrying is uncontrollable and I can’t stop it
  2. My worrying is dangerous or scary (my worry itself is worrying!)
  3. Worrying about my main concerns is necessary or helpful in some way

Some Worry Experiments

Worry-DollsPick several of the worry experiments below to try and them for a few minutes each, then quickly re-rate the beliefs about worry above after each:

    1. Plan coping with worst, best and most-likely scenarios.  Pick the main problem that you worry about.  Briefly write down a description of the worst that could realistically happen and the best you could do to cope even if that did happen, rate how much actual harm would be done in the long-term (0-100%).  Then write down a description of the best that you could realistically hope might happen, how you could best cope, and rate how much actual harm would result in the long-run (0-100%).  Finally, do the same for the most likely (probable and realistic) scenario, and focus your attention on how you could best cope with this, and how much actual harm would be done in the grand scheme of things (0-100%).

    2. Try to imagine all three alternatives simultaneously: worst, best, and most-likely.  Perhaps list them one after another on a sheet of paper and picture this in your mind for a minute, focusing on entertaining multiple perspectives on the same situation, to create a sense of mental flexibility.

    3. Imagine that you have a dial, marked 0-10, that controls how absorbed you are in your worries and how seriously you take them.  Imagine that to begin with it’s set in the middle, at five.  Turn the dial slowly up to ten, one number at a time, and notice what happens as you become more and more absorbed in your worry, and how you do that.  Then do the opposite, and slowly turn the dial all the way down to zero, as you become more and more detached from your worrying, and notice what happens as you do so, and how you become more detached.

    4. Worry mindfully and slowly, viewing thoughts as merely thoughts.  Allow yourself to worry but slow down a little, introduce some pauses, and observe yourself as you worry, noticing that your thoughts are just words passing through your mind.  Try to maintain a sense of mindfulness and self-awareness while worrying.

    5. Worry with relaxed face and jaw.  Tense your forehead muscles for about thirty seconds and then relax them completely and utterly, for a minute.  Do this twice.  Then do the same thing with your jaw muscles.  As you keep relaxing your forehead, jaw, and facial muscles more deeply with each exhalation of breath, try to worry with these muscles remaining completely relaxed.

    6. Worry with general relaxation.  Count from ten down to zero, and allow your whole body to relax more deeply, with each number.  Then keep relaxing your whole body more deeply with each exhalation of breath, as you try to worry while remaining completely physically relaxed.

    7. Worry with sense of yourself as observer.  Imagine that your thoughts are just one small corner of your mind and that you are not your thoughts or feelings but the consciousness observing them, or the space within which they occur.  Try to worry while retaining an awareness of yourself as separate from your thoughts and feelings.

    8. Worry visually, picturing worst-case scenario.  Picture your underlying worry or the worst that could happen, and focus on that image for as long as possible, ideally until you begin to get bored with it.

    9. Worry with expanded attention.  Rather than concentrating on your worry, or trying to distract yourself by concentrating on something else, instead expand your attention beyond your worry, broadening its scope, to “dilute” your experience of worrying.  Take a minute to describe to yourself as many things as possible that you can see or hear in the environment around you.  Then, with your eyes open, try to worry for a minute or so, aware of your thoughts but also aware of your environment and noticing as many aspects of the present situation as possible.

    10. Worry aloud with mindfulness of facial expression, eye movements, and muscles of speech.  Speak slowly and clearly and really try to notice how you use your breathing and the muscles in your body as your pronounce the words, to expand your awareness beyond the thoughts themselves and take in more of your present-moment experience.

    11. Worry as if you’re observing your thoughts and behaviour from outside.  Close your eyes and picture yourself as if seen from the outside and imagine that you can see and hear yourself worrying “over there”, i.e., picture yourself worrying aloud.  Then imagine walking around the image of yourself worrying and inspecting it from a detached perspective, as if it’s an exhibit in a museum or art gallery.  Alternatively, imagine you’re listening to and watching yourself on television talking aloud about your worries

    12. Worry in different accents.  Try worrying in a Jamaican accent, or an Irish or Scottish accent, or in someone else’s voice.  Perhaps experiment with different accents or voices and compare these different experiences of worry.

    13. Try to lose control of worry or induce panic, etc.  Worry as “hard” as you can and try to see if you can make your worry spiral out of control on purpose.  (Don’t do this without the supervision of a therapist.)

    14. Picture a tiger in your mind’s eye and let go of any attempt to control or influence it, just let it do whatever it likes.  If it stays that’s fine, if it goes away that’s fine, if it changes that’s okay too.  Just do nothing.  Now allow yourself to have one of the thoughts you normally worry about and just do nothing in response to it, like you did with the tiger.  Practice having the thought and doing nothing in response, neither trying to get rid of it nor trying to hold onto it.  Don’t have a conversation with yourself or worry about it.  Just allow it to fade naturally from your mind and be replaced by other thoughts in its own time.  Repeat this a few times if necessary.

    15. Repeat your main worry aloud rapidly.  Try to sum up your main worry in a short sentence (“What if I lose everything?”) and repeat this aloud, quite rapidly, for about 45 seconds, as you pay attention to the sound of the words and the sensation in your mouth as your pronounce them.


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