How Scheduling Worry Time Can Make You More Resilient

By Craig Dowden, Ph.D.
worry time

Resilience has taken center stage as we continue to navigate COVID-19. While the rollout of the vaccines has inspired hope, we are continuing to face countless challenges. Not surprisingly, research shows us that our worries can get the best of us and undermine our ability to develop and implement effective strategies. While evidence also highlights that becoming more aware of and tracking our worries, can help us manage them more effectively, another commonly utilized strategy in cognitive-behavioral therapy can provide another tool in our toolkit—scheduling worry time.

A groundbreaking study based out of Pennsylvania State University divided research participants into two groups. The treatment group was instructed to schedule worry time. This meant that if any worries emerged during the day, the participants could not worry in the moment. They were requested to wait until their ‘worry time’ to address it. The control group, on the other hand, was given no such restrictions. They were told to continue worrying as per usual.

At the end of the study, participants in the treatment group (e.g., scheduled worry time) experienced significantly less anxiety than those in the “worry as per usual” condition. Another benefit of scheduling worry time was that participants slept better. Other studies have replicated these findings.

Putting Science into Practice

Follow these steps to leverage the power of this technique most effectively:

  1. Choose a time each day to worry. Ideally, make it the same time each day. Try not to schedule it too close to bedtime, as it may disrupt your ability to fall asleep.
  2. Schedule 30 minutes of worry time – make sure you set a timer and do not go over time. If you are in the midst of worrying when the timer goes off, you can bring those worries forward to the next day.
  3. Although you can worry whichever way you wish, evidence suggests that writing down your thoughts and feelings may bring additional benefits to the exercise.

There are several reasons why this technique is effective. 

  1. We become more mindful of when we are worrying. This increased awareness brings benefits in and of itself.
  2. It allows us to be more productive – Worries can be a powerful distraction to important tasks we are involved in at the moment, which can undermine our productivity. By acknowledging the worry and scheduling time to deal with it later, we can go back to our work and suffer minimal disruption.
  3. When we eventually revisit the worry, the elapsed time may have resolved the issue. While worries can feel larger than life when they arise, revisiting them at a later time can diminish their power and feeling of urgency.

Conclusion

As we continue to plot a path to our ‘new normal,’ feelings of worry will be a regular and natural companion. However, we do not need to be overcome by these concerns. By taking a more mindful and strategic approach, we can move forward with purpose and intention. Facing our worries head-on empowers us to take action and stay the course.