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Worry Monsters


"First of all, keep him out of the light, he hates bright light, especially sunlight, it'll kill him. Second, don't give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never feed him after midnight." - From the 1984 movie, Gremlins

This movie, however ridiculous, always makes me think of our relationship with anxiety. Since we talk about that often in session, I wanted to summarize some of the techniques that might help you feel greater control over your worry.

One way to manage your "Worry Monster"-Put it on the Shelf

The goal is to give the ruminative mind a chance to rest and calm down, knowing you have increased control over pulling the worry from the shelf to experience it more. Here is how it works.

  1. Close your eyes and focus on an image of an open container ready to receive every issue on your mind.

  2. Name each worry, and imagine putting it into the container. **

  3. Mentally "put a lid" on the container and place it on a shelf or in some out of the way place until you need to revisit it.

  4. Move your focus to a task in the present that you need to complete, or if it is bedtime, concentrate on your breath, imagine a recent peaceful moment, or think about something you are looking forward to in the near future.

** If you prefer tangible tools to metaphorical ones, write a list of worries and put the list on a shelf or in a desk drawer. Some worries just have to be faced head-on and right now. You can still temper the worry from getting out of control if you worry well--and only once. Here's how it works.

  1. Set a 10-minute time limit on your worry session. It's critical to this method to cover all the bases, but 10 minutes, surprisingly, is an adequate amount of time in which to do that.

  2. Worry. If alone, write it all down, every thought, feeling and scenario playing in your mind. If you prefer to talk it out, find a support person who can listen and help you cover each of the specific concerns.

  3. Do anything that must be done at the present time to address the concern. Make the follow up appt. Research local resources, etc.

  4. Set a time when it'll be necessary to think about the worry again. Write that time on a calendar.

  5. Having worried well, move to the "Only Once" part of the method. If you notice your mind worrying about this, practice saying something like, "Oh hi there. I already worried about you. You can move along," and have a list of distractions ready that you can implement then and there.

Beware. Those of us who ruminate about a worry may try to get rid of it by seeking the reassurance that it's unfounded. In reality, however, a ruminating brain will simply find some flaw in the most fail-safe reassurance. One way to bypass this worry trap is to make a plan. Here's how it works.

  1. Identifying the problem in as few words as possible.

  2. List options to address the problem.

  3. Picking one of the options

  4. Write out a plan of action. To be successful with this approach, practice applying the thought-training technique discussed before so you don't get stuck in endless cycles of replanning.

A plan offers concrete reassurance to prevent rumination. The plan then becomes part of the thought-stopping statement like, "Oh hi there. I see you want my attention again, but I already have a plan. Move along."

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