Reduce Worry by Postponing Worry and Using a Thinking Period

Anxious Man

One CBT strategy to reduce anxiety and worry is to postpone worrying. When we postpone worry, we make a conscious decision to not worry about something now. We make a note of what we’re worrying about, and set it aside. Then we schedule a thinking period later in the day. During our thinking period, we come back to whatever we were worrying about earlier. And then we think about it and see if there’s anything we can do to change the situation or to reassure ourselves.

This may not seem like it would be that effective, but it usually works pretty well. It’s a way of giving ourselves permission not to worry about something just because it’s popped into our heads. But also to not completely neglect it, in case it might be important.

When it’s time for our thinking period, we may decide that what we were worrying about earlier no longer seems important. And then we don’t need to do anything about it now. Or, if it’s still something we’re worried about, we can go through the steps to determine whether or not our worry is productive or unproductive.

If it is productive, we transition to problem solving. If it’s not productive, we can try to just let the worry go. And if our worry persists, we can change our perspective and reduce our anxiety with cognitive restructuring, a CBT strategy we’ll learn over the next few posts.

The Best Tip To Reduce Worrying

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

Sorry about the click bait title but i really do think that this tip is the best way to stop worrying. Now when i first heard about this strategy i was a little bit sceptical, but so many of my clients have benefited from it that it’s now one of the first things i suggest to anyone who’s experiencing excessive worry. And this tip is simply to postpone worrying. So let’s look at what that means and how we do it.

So whenever we notice ourselves starting to worry we have a few options. The first is to just become aware that we’re starting to have anxious and worried thoughts, acknowledge these thoughts, and simply let them go. If a worry passes into our minds, we just allow it to pass right out again without latching onto it and giving it our attention. And letting go of worries in this way is easier said than done but i have a couple of videos with strategies that can help.

Now the second thing we can do is to take a few moments and figure out whether our worrying is productive, in which case we can transition into problem solving. But if our worrying is unproductive, then we can either use the first option and let these unproductive worries go, or we can move on to the third option and postpone our worrying. So let’s look at how postponing worry works and why it can be so effective.

Postponing worry is a great option for when we’re trying to let go of whatever we’re worrying about, either because we’ve determined our worrying is unproductive and not getting us anywhere, or because even if we could do something productive regarding what we’re worrying about, we just don’t have the time or maybe not the energy to deal with it right now. So we want to stop worrying and put this out of our minds at least for now, but despite our best intentions we’re finding it incredibly difficult to not continue worrying about it.

So in order to postpone worrying, step one is to just acknowledge that we’re worrying, telling ourselves something like, it’s okay that i’m having this thought but i don’t need to do anything about it right now. I don’t need to focus my attention on it or let it distract me from whatever else i’m doing.

And then step two is to write down whatever we’re worrying about. So maybe if we’re worried about getting ready to move in a couple of months we’d write down something like: i’ve got so much stuff to do i don’t know how i’m going to manage; i don’t even have a new place yet; what if i can’t find anything?

Or if we’re worried about an upcoming job interview we might write down: i’m terrible at interviews; what if i blow it; what if i’m stuck in this crappy job forever; or it doesn’t even have to be that detailed/ we could just write down a few words like, i’m so anxious about moving, or i can’t stop worrying about the fight i had with my partner last night.

So we want to write things down because, first of all, sometimes just writing down what we’re worried about helps get it out of our heads. And that alone can reduce how much we continue to worry. But the main reason we write it down is because when we worry, even if we wish we weren’t worrying, there’s often something in the back of our minds that tells us we’re worrying for a reason, that we shouldn’t just ignore it and let it go, and that there may be something to our worries that’s important and needs our attention.

So we write it down so that if it is something important we’re not going to forget about it later, because sometimes only then can we convince ourselves it’s okay to stop worrying about it for now. And we can postpone worrying about it until a more convenient time of our choosing, rather than feeling like we’re forced to worry about it now just because it’s popped into our heads.

So after we write the worry down, step three is to simply set this worry aside for now.

And then step four is to refocus our attention back on whatever we were doing before we started to worry about something else.

Step five, which is optional but usually follows, is that the worry or thought we’ve decided to postpone worrying about pops back into our heads. We can’t control our thoughts. Thoughts are constantly coming into our minds automatically and spontaneously. And when we’re anxious a lot of these thoughts will be worries. So when these thoughts or worries come back up even though we’ve decided to postpone worrying about them, this isn’t a sign of failure, it’s just how our minds work.

So if it’s something we’ve already worried about and written down, all we need to do is add a tick to where we’ve written it down before. Or if it’s a new worry we can just write that down. And either way, then we simply set these worries aside postpone worrying about them and then return our attention back to whatever we were doing.

So that’s the first component of postponing worry: writing our worries down and setting them aside and postponing worrying about them until a more convenient time of our choosing that we’ve scheduled in advance.

So the second component of postponing worry is to schedule in a worry period later in the day, when we can come back to whatever we’ve written down during the day that we’ve been worrying about and give these worries any attention they may deserve. And when i first learned about this technique this was referred to as a worry period, but let’s call it a thinking period instead since the goal isn’t to worry unproductively during this time, but to think about what we were worrying about earlier in a more productive fashion.

So the goal of the thinking period is to use this time to look at whatever we postponed worrying about earlier and assess whether or not there’s anything we can do: either to change the situation we’re worrying about in order to reduce our anxiety; or to reassure ourselves about whatever it is we’re worrying about so that we’re less worried about it and less anxious.

So the rules for the thinking period are to plan a time in advance when we’re not going to be distracted by other things, and set aside no more than half an hour. And there’s no reason we need to use this full half hour, but anything more than half an hour and we’re almost certainly back to worrying unproductively about the issue rather than thinking about it productively.

Now early evening is often a good time to schedule the thinking period, maybe after dinner and before whatever we do in the evenings to relax, because we don’t want to leave it too late so we have some worry-free or relatively worry-free time to unwind before we try to fall asleep.

So then we start our thinking periods by looking at the list of worries we wrote down earlier, and go through them one by one ,and ask ourselves is this something that still seems important? Is it something that’s still bothering me? Am i still worried about it? And if the answer is no we can just cross it off our lists and move on. And if we cross everything off our lists without having to think about them anymore and are done in a couple of minutes, well that’s great: not only did we postpone worrying about them during the day, but we’re not worrying about them now, so we’ve been able to have a relatively worry-free day.

And if a worry is still bothering us or seems relevant or important, then we go through the steps to determine whether it’s a productive or unproductive worry that we looked at in another video. And if it’s productive we transition to problem solving, also covered in another video. And if it isn’t productive we either just try to let go of the worry, or we can use a worry record worksheet to engage in cognitive restructuring to change our perspective about the situation in ways that reduce our anxiety and worry. And again there’s a whole video that covers how to use the worry record worksheet, and you can find all of these videos together on my site so please check that out.

And then when we’re finished with our thinking period, it’s great to have something planned to distract ourselves a bit so we don’t fall right back into worrying. So that’s why before whatever we do in the evenings to relax is a good time to schedule the thinking period. And if worries creep back into our minds after our scheduled thinking period, we just write them down and postpone worrying about them until tomorrow’s thinking period.

In addition to an immediate reduction in how much we’re worrying, there are some other benefits to postponing worry. Worry can be like an itch: the more we scratch it, the itchier it gets, and the more we feel we need to keep scratching, and we can end up scratching and scratching that itch all day long.

Well the more we worry, the more worried we get, and in a sense the more itchy our worries get, and the more we need to keep scratching or worrying about them. And we can end up worrying and worrying, scratching that worry itch all day long.

But if we postpone scratching an itch for a while, that itch often just goes away. And if we set up some scratching time for later in the day, when that time comes we’re not itchy anymore, and so we don’t need to scratch. And the same is true of worry. If we postpone scratching our worry for a while—in other words we allow a worry to be in our minds without reacting to it, without scratching it by worrying even more—once we’ve postponed scratching that worry itch for a while, the worry often just goes away on its own. And then when it comes time for our thinking periods the worry no longer needs to be scratched.

One of the reasons we worry is that we think we’re accomplishing something by worrying, and that if we keep worrying, eventually we’ll figure out a solution that allows us to not feel anxious anymore. And postponing worry not only doesn’t prevent us from doing this, it makes us more efficient. Setting aside a dedicated time for thinking about our worries or whatever we’re anxious about makes it more likely we’ll come up with solutions. It’s more effective than constant unfocused worrying throughout the day, while we’re also trying to go about our lives and get other stuff done. So postponing worry makes us more productive both in dealing with whatever we’re worrying about, and also in managing the other stuff we have going on in our lives, because we’re not constantly getting sidetracked by worrying.

Another reason we worry is that we think we just can’t help it. We think our worry is uncontrollable. When we’re anxious we worry, and maybe even when we’re not anxious we worry. We’re just a worrier. It’s what we do. We don’t have a choice. And that’s basically the first two criteria of generalized anxiety disorder: excessive anxiety; and worry occurring more days than not about a number of activities—the individual finds it difficult to control the worry.

But when we’re able to postpone worry, we start to get a sense of control over the worry. We learn we don’t always have to worry, and that even once we start to worry about something we can set our worries aside for a while. And the more we practice doing this, the better we get at it, and the less we see worry as something unavoidable that we can’t do anything.

About so there are a number of benefits to postponing worry until the thinking period later in the day. So give it a shot for a couple of weeks and see if it helps. And remember you can find all of my videos about worrying together on my site along with a number of worksheets that can help you implement the strategies described in the videos.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.