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Worrying doesn’t solve a problem, and worse, the mental energy you waste when obsessing about worst case scenarios may keep you from actions that could actually help.

Roughly 40% of people worry on a daily basis and about 1 person in 20 will experience chronic daily worry and anxiety as a part of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) at some point in life.1

Excessive worrying causes stress and anxiety, it can affect physical health and it can stop you from participating in rewarding activities – excessive worrying does you little good…and a whole lot of bad.

Fortunately, you can choose to stop worrying so much!

Though it may take a bit of effort, you can retrain your thinking so that worries don’t cause you such distress. One way to do this is by writing a worry diary.

What’s a Worry Diary?

It’s difficult to rationally analyze distressing thoughts as they dance and swirl through your mind, but by writing them down on paper and tackling them with a structured set of questions, you can find the truth - and you can usually stop worrying about what’s not likely to occur.

A worry diary is simply a notebook you keep to record – and challenge – your worrisome thoughts.

Writing Down Your Worries (Step 1)

When you start feeling overwhelmed or when worries interfere with your ability to sleep or work, take a few minutes to write down exactly what you’re worrying about.

You write down your worries because:

  1. Writing these worries down removes some of their power over you. You no longer have to stay mentally vigilant to keep track of them once they’re in your notebook.
  2. Releasing the worries to paper frees up a little head space and this enables you to think more clearly and rationally.
  3. Once you’ve written them down you can begin a structured worry-challenging exercise which should bring some healthy perspective.

Clarifying Your Worries (Step 2)

Once you’ve clarified and identified your individual worries in writing you can begin to evaluate and challenge these distressing thoughts.

For each worry, ask yourself:

  • What bad thing do I think is going to happen?
  • What are the odds that this negative consequence will occur?
  • What emotions am I feeling right now?  How strong are these emotions? (Use a 1 – 100 scale)

For example:

  • I am worried I am going to fail out of school.
  • I really think it’s going to happen – The professors go much faster than the teachers did in high school and I am already feeling behind in the reading.  
  • I am feeling very anxious right now – 70 out of a 100.

Challenging Your Worries (Step 3)

In this next step you examine the validity of your worries through challenging questions designed to elicit reality and truth.

For each worry, ask and answer:

  • What evidence do I have to support my worry?
  • Is there any evidence that would argue against my worry?
  • In reality, how likely is it that what I am fearful of is actually going to happen?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen?
  • What’s the best thing that could happen?
  • What will probably happen?
  • Is worrying about it helping at all?
  • If my worst case scenario happened – could I cope? What would I have to do to cope?
  • Is there another way I can look at this situation?

For example

  • (Evidence for)  - I am worried I am going to flunk out because the readings are more challenging than I had expected and I am having trouble finding the time to get my work done.
  • (Evidence Against) - I guess I have always been able to hand in assignments on time so far and my grades have been OK. In high school I was a very good student but even then I worried that I wasn’t going to get into college and sometimes I even worried I was not going to graduate. My professors seem to think my questions in class are interesting.
  • (Reality) - I guess if I look at the reality I am probably not going to fail out of college this semester – there is maybe a 15% chance of that.
  • (Worst Case Scenario) - If I failed I would have to go back home and get a job and live with my family.
  • (Best Case Scenario) – I may end up getting high grades the semester.
  • (Most Likely) – I will get average or good grades.
  • (Is Worrying Helpful) – When I worry I have trouble concentrating on my studying…so it is definitely not helpful!
  • (Handling Worst Case Scenario) – I guess if I failed out I could just work for a few months at home and then reapply to another program. It would be embarrassing but I could buy a car while I waited and see my old friends again for a few months.
  • (Looking at Things in a New Light) – I guess the evidence suggests I will do OK in school here since I have always been a good student in the past and I am still willing to work. I seem to be as smart as other students here and most people don’t fail out. I am not partying all the time like some people I see here. Even if my grades aren’t perfect this semester I am still new here so I have lots of time to improve.

Re-framing the Situation (Step 4)

After completing the challenge exercise it’s time to finalize your processing of this worry – so you can leave it behind you.

The worry started as:

I am worried I am going to fail out of school.

Now, based on the answers from the challenge exercise, write out a new way of thinking about the situation:

College is harder than I thought it would be and I am worried about my grades, but since I am working hard and since I have always done well in school in the past I will probably find a way to get the grades I need.

Next, ask yourself how strongly you believe in your original worry:

  • Now I guess I am about 70% sure I won’t fail out of school this semester.

Lastly, write down how you’re feeling about it after completing the exercise:

  • I am still anxious, but it’s not as bad now – about 30 out of a 100.

The Benefits of Challenging Your Worries

People who use a worry diary to challenge the validity of their fears tend obsess less about the worst case scenarios and focus more on the reality of the situation. By doing this, they experience a reduction in negative emotions that accompany persistent worries.2


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Page last updated Dec 08, 2015

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