When we’re anxious and worrying, we tend to:
- worry bad things will happen
- worry over “what if” hypothetical negative outcomes
- overestimate the likelihood something bad will happen
- overestimate how bad things will be, and focus on the worst case scenario
- underestimate our ability to cope if something bad does happen
The worry record is a CBT worksheet that helps us reduce anxiety and worrying with cognitive restructuring. We modify or replace our anxious thoughts and worrying with less negatively biased and more realistic thinking. It allows us to see things from a less catastrophic perspective. And this lets us come up with more likely scenarios than the worst-case scenario. And as a result our levels of anxiety decrease and we worry less.
Reduce Anxiety and Worrying with a Worry Record
This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.
In this video we’re going to learn how to reduce anxiety and worry with a worksheet from cognitive behavioral therapy called a worry record. I’ve made a few videos about worry recently where we’ve looked at the difference between productive and unproductive worry; and how we can turn productive worrying into problem solving; and how to just let our unproductive worries go or postpone our worry and use a worry period later in the day. And then when we do look at our worries, a worry record is a great tool to find different ways of looking at situations that are causing us anxiety and as a result experience less anxiety and have less reason to worry.
If you’ve seen my other videos you’ve probably heard me talk about the close relationship between our thoughts and our feelings. When we feel anxious we tend to have anxious thoughts and worry a lot. And these thoughts and worries feed back into our anxiety, making us even more anxious; which leads to even more worrying, and so on. But if we’re able to change the thoughts that we’re having about the situation that’s making us anxious, we can decrease the amount of anxiety we’re feeling.
And then as we decrease our levels of anxiety our thoughts will naturally become less anxious, and we’ll start to worry les; which leads to a further reduction in anxiety; which leaves our thoughts less anxious; and reduces how much we worry.
Now when we’re anxious and worrying our thoughts tend to follow a certain pattern. First, we worry that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen. And this can take the form of predicting a negative outcome like, i’m not going to be able to get everything done on time; i’m going to let everyone down.
Or i think they’re mad at me, they probably don’t like me anymore. Or instead of an actual prediction our worries can take the form of a what if statement. What if i can’t get everything done on time? What if i let everyone down? What if they’re mad at me? What if they don’t like me anymore?
And second, we overestimate the likelihood that this bad outcome will occur. I’m sure i’ll never be able to get this done on time. I know i’m going to let everyone down. They must be mad at me.
And then we overestimate just how bad things will be: i’m going to get fired; they’re going to break up with me. And we underestimate our ability to cope with that negative outcome if it does arise: i don’t know what i’m going to do; i’m not going to be able to deal with it.
So the worry record is a type of thought record that focuses specifically on anxious thoughts and worry, and helps us challenge these worries and: either modify them so that they’re more accurate and less negatively and catastrophically biased; or we replace these worried thoughts with new thoughts that more accurately reflect the reality of our situations. And in both cases these modified or new thoughts lead to a reduction in our anxiety because of this close connection between our thoughts and how we feel.
So now let’s look at how the worry record helps us do this. So in part one of the worry record we start off by describing the situation we’re anxious or worried about. So for example an important project we have at work. And then we write down our feelings and emotions, describing them with single words like anxious, worried, nervous.
And we also write down any physiological symptoms or physical sensations we’re experiencing, because these can be such a big part of anxiety. So maybe there’s some tightness in our throats and our stomachs feel really tense. And then we rate the intensity of these emotions and sensations on a scale from zero to a hundred.
And then we write down what we’re worried about, what we’re thinking or saying to ourselves, or just whatever’s going through our minds. It’s too much work, i’m never going to get it all done. Or i’m going to have to rush everything and do a really bad job.
And then we write down what we predict is going to happen. I’m not going to get it all done. Or if i do it’s not going to be very good and i’m going to let everyone down and i’m going to get in trouble with my boss. And then we rate how likely we think it is this prediction will come true on a scale from zero to a hundred percent.
And so these last couple of sections relate to our tendency to overestimate the likelihood that something bad will happen, and also overestimate how bad it will be. And so as the worksheet continues we’ll generate more accurate estimations in both of these areas. And then in part two we challenge and modify our worries and predictions.
So we start by writing down all of the evidence that supports our prediction and all of the evidence that doesn’t support our prediction. So maybe the evidence for is something like: i do have so much work to do; i don’t have very much time; i know that when i’m anxious i’m not able to work as effectively as i usually do so i can’t even get as much work done as normal; when i’m rushed i never do my best quality work; and i know how important this project is for my boss and my colleagues.
And then the evidence that doesn’t support our prediction could be things: like i’ve never missed a deadline before; no one’s ever complained about the quality of my work; i often feel stressed at first but i always manage to make it work in the end; even if i didn’t do as good a job as i could it’s still probably going to be good enough; and even if i do let people down i’ve worked here long enough with good enough results that i’m not going to get fired over this one thing.
And if we get stuck trying to come up with evidence that doesn’t support our predictions we’re stuck on any of the questions coming up at the bottom of the worksheet there are series of prompt questions we can use to help us with our responses.
And now we ask ourselves what’s the worst that could happen. Well the worst case scenario is probably, i could lose my job over this. And then we ask ourselves if the worst case did happen, what could we do to help ourselves cope. And this helps address our tendency to underestimate our ability to cope if something bad were to happen. Well i guess i could live off my savings for a while while i look for another job, and if i run out of money i could even live with my parents for a while until i’m working again. And obviously these aren’t great options—nobody wants to be unemployed or have to move back in with their parents—but remember we’re looking at the worst case scenario here, which probably isn’t going to happen. But even if it does, at least there are some things we can do, even if none of them are ideal. And just knowing this can help reduce our anxiety a little bit.
And then we ask ourselves what’s the best that could happen. And this question is important because when we’re feeling anxious and worrying we have such a tendency to fixate on only the worst case scenario, which is going to leave us feeling as anxious as possible. So we need to remind ourselves that the worst case scenario isn’t the only scenario. And in the best case scenario probably nothing that bad happens. And then we’re going to look at the most likely scenario.
So maybe the best case scenario is, i get everything done on time and it turns out pretty well. And maybe the most likely scenario is, i’m really stressed for a few days and struggle to finish on time, but in the end i do get everything done, and even though it’s not my best work it’s perfectly fine.
And then we ask ourselves what are the consequences of continuing to worry about this. Well worrying makes me feel like i’m doing something, but really i’d be much better off spending my time actually working on the project rather than worrying about it. And the more i worry, the more difficult it is for me to focus when i’m trying to work, the more stressed i get, and the harder it is for me to get to sleep at night. And when i’m stressed and tired i can’t get as much work done and the quality of my work suffers.
So now based on our answers from the last section we come up with modified and alternative ways of viewing the situation and predicting what’s going to happen that don’t cause us so much anxiety and give us less reason to worry. If i’m able to focus on work and not worry so much i probably will be able to get it all done. And i might have to work late or even on the weekend or ask for some help, but one way or another i’m gonna get it finished.
And then we write down our new prediction about what we think will happen, which could be the most likely scenario we identified above, or it could be something slightly different like, i’m going to be really stressed and struggle to finish on time, but in the end it’ll get done even if it’s not my best work. And we rate the likelihood that our new prediction will come true on a scale from zero to a hundred percent.
And then we ask ourselves how much do i believe my original prediction now, and we re-rate how likely we think it is that prediction will come true. And then we go back and re-rate the intensity of the emotions and physiological symptoms and physical sensations that we identified in the first part, and write down any new emotions or physical sensations we’re feeling now.
And now with these new ways of thinking about the situation a new prediction about what will happen that’s not so catastrophic, our levels of anxiety will decrease and we’ll have less reason to worry. And you can download a worry record worksheet from my site selfhelptons.com where you’ll also find my complete self-help course for anxiety.
Now let’s go through another example. So let’s say the situation is, we got in an argument with our partners this morning and they haven’t been responding to our texts or calls all day. And we’re feeling anxious and sad and impatient, and we notice some tightness in our chests.
So what am i worrying about thinking or saying to myself? What if they keep ignoring me? What if they’re really mad at me? What if we get into a big fight over this? What if they want to break up with me? And then we write down what we predict is going to happen. We’re going to have a big fight about this tonight and maybe we’re even gonna break up. And then we rate how much we believe this prediction.
And now in part two we look for the evidence that supports and that doesn’t support our prediction. They were upset this morning they haven’t answered my texts all day. They’ve seemed kind of distant lately and we’ve been arguing a lot. This is exactly how my last relationship ended.
And now we look at the evidence against our prediction. I can’t read their mind and so i don’t know what they’re thinking. Maybe they’re just too busy to respond right now. And i know they don’t like arguing over text so maybe they’re just waiting until we can talk about this in person. This relationship is so much different than my last one, there’s no point trying to compare the two. We’ve had plenty of arguments before and we’ve always worked things out.
And what’s the worst that could happen? Well the worst that could happen is that we break up. And if the worst did happen how would i be able to cope with it? I’ve had relationships end in the past and i’ve always gotten over it. I’ve got some close friends that would be there for me and i’d be miserable for a while but eventually i’d be okay. And again this isn’t great but remember we’re looking at the absolute worst case scenario, which is probably not going to happen. But even if it does at least we know that we’ve been in similar situations before and found a way to manage.
And now what’s the best thing that could happen? They’re just busy right now and they’ll text or call us back as soon as they have time. And what’s the most likely thing that could happen? Well we’ll talk about things tonight and probably even argue over them, and in the end we’ll resolve things and make up like we always do. And what are the consequences of continuing to worry about this? Well it’s just going to make me feel bad all day. I’m going to have trouble focusing on anything else. And i’m going to be in a bad mood when we do talk about things.
So what’s a more balanced or alternative way of thinking about this situation? I don’t know why they’re not responding to me. Maybe they’re just busy or maybe they’re just waiting until they get home so we can talk in person. And even if we do end up in a big argument, we’ll probably work things out and make up just like we always do.
And then we ask ourselves, what am i now predicting will happen? We’ll talk things over tonight and maybe we’ll even fight a bit, but in the end we’ll figure things out and it’ll be okay. And we rate how much we believe this new prediction. And we go back and re-rate how likely we think it is our original prediction comes true. And then we re-rate the intensity of the emotions and physical symptoms we identified in part one, and write down any new emotions or physical sensations we’re experiencing now.
So whenever we’re not able to problem solve what we’re worried about, or just let our unproductive worries go, the worry record is a great tool to help change our anxious thoughts, which then reduces our anxiety, and gives us less to worry about.