All day, every day: It’s stress o’clock. While all you might want to do is push away your worries, if you really want to get a sense of control, you need to tackle them with intention. To accomplish this, set aside a designated time to do nothing but stress. Here’s what to know about taking an effective “worry break,” and why it might be the right technique for you.
Why you should designate time to worry
Sure, it sounds counterintuitive to lean into all the thoughts causing you strife. Isn’t that a recipe for spiraling?
The idea behind a designated worry break is not to succumb to all the stress, but to concentrate your worrying time into a productive “session” of sorts. Stressful thoughts find a way to intrude and disrupt your daily life. By scheduling a separate chunk of time to address them all, you’ll be able to focus on other things throughout your day.
It’s all about stressing more effectively—like diving straight into cold water, rather than torturing yourself by wading in and out of it a little bit at a time
I want to emphasize that your worry break will not simply be a terrifying fifteen minutes when your anxiety takes over, and then you’re expected to snap out of when the timer runs out. Instead, your goal will be to identify and attend to each of your worries, hopefully leading to some kind of action plan to help you regain control of your day.
How to set up your worry break
The first step is the easiest, so long as you actually stick to it: Choose your time to stress. Mark it in your calendar, set a reminder, and don’t bail on yourself. To start out, carve out 15 or so minutes once a week.
When your scheduled worry break rolls around, it’s time to stress. But the key is to stress constructively.
Try to get your worries down in words. Writing them down in list form is daunting, but an excellent practice in perspective. It helps to take abstract, overwhelming emotions surrounding each stress item, and then transforms them into what is bothering you on a more concrete (and manageable) level.
Next, dedicate time to each item on your list. Circle the ones that are ostensibly in your control. For instance, “my purpose in life” is a tad too abstract to tackle in this 15 minute session. However, something like “making time for my family” is a starting place for creating actionable solutions. For each stress item, try to brainstorm several potential solutions, e.g. “ask ____ for help” or “schedule a proper date night.”
Not every source of stress has an actionable solution; in fact, a lack of obvious solutions is probably the source of a lot of your stress. In this case, coping strategies also count as a “solution.” Look into ways to manage your stress, like the 15 ideas listed out here.
Questions to guide your worry break
As you get used to attending to your stressful thoughts, here are some guiding questions to ask yourself:
- Is this worry within my control?
- What aspects of this concern are in and/or out of my control?
- What mental hang-ups are making this stress worse?
- How would I approach this if I had unlimited time and resources?
- What is getting in the way of me overcoming this hurdle?
- How do I really feel about this stress?
- What is the ideal outcome in this situation?
- What is a first step I can take?
These questions are all launch points for brainstorming action items and coping strategies. It’s important to reflect and address your thoughts, or else their power to intrude on your mind will only grow stronger.
Remember your goal is to stress constructively
The biggest mistakes you can make with your worry breaks are (1) not brainstorming an action plan and (2) not following through on your action plan. Remember that your goal is to transform abstract, overwhelming worries into bite-sized solutions. If you struggle to hold yourself accountable, loop in a trusted friend who can check in on the status of your action plan.
One final note: Once the time goes off, force yourself to switch gears. Unless you’re really on a roll making your action plan, you don’t want this minutes-long break to turn into an hours-long spiral. Remember that you’ve scheduled another worry break on the calendar, but that in the meantime, you’re free to focus your energy on other things.