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Challenging worry

2 months ago 0 11213 logo logo logo logo logo logo logo logo logo logo 0

There are a number of CBT techniques that are commonly used to help people challenge worry including: thought records, thought stopping, worry time, challenging the value of worry, problem solving, experiments to increase intolerance of uncertainty and cognitive exposure. Let’s take a look at them one at a time:

Cognitive Exposure: People who worry often try very hard not to worry. In fact, people can do all kinds of things to try to not worry. People try hard not to worry for all kinds of reasons including a belief that worrying about something makes it more likely that if they worry too much they will go crazy. Certainly many of the things that people worry about (finances, illness and death) can be very scary. However, by trying hard not to worry we can give our worries more power than they deserve. To see how this can happen, consider the following example. For the next two minutes, try as hard as you can to NOT think of a whit elephant. Do everything that you can to Not think of a white elephant. Take two minutes to do this experiment. We will be here when you are finished.

What happened?

Well, if you are like most people, the harder you tried not to think of a white elephant, the more you thought of a white elephant. What does this mean about you…or white elephants? Nothing! It just means like most people trying hard not to think of something makes you think of it even more. How do you not think of white elephants? How do you get them out of your head? Why, by thinking about them of course. If you are like most people, if you start daydreaming about white elephants, you will soon end up somewhere else all together.


So what does this experiment prove? 

What this experiment proves is that the more you try to NOT think of something, the more you will think of it. Now imagine that we ask you to NOT think of something but this time instead of a white elephant we ask you to not think of one of your worries. What should happen? That’s right, you should have a hard time getting the worry out of your head. In fact because it is one of your worries (not just a white elephant), you should have an even harder time NOT thinking about it. OK, so now what does this mean about you…or your worry…? The right answer is nothing! It just means that the harder you try not to think of something, the harder it is to get out of your head. And this is the tricky part where you can get into trouble. It is easy to believe that not being able to NOT think of a white elephant means nothing about you or the white elephant (If you have to read that last sentence a couple of times). On the other hand it is hard not to think that not being able to not think of a worry means something about you or the worry. Common beliefs that people have about not being able to get worries out of their mind are that “there must be something wrong with me,”I am losing control of my mind,” and “this worry must be important.” Maybe you can see how it is these beliefs about worries and worrying that lead to the most trouble of all.

Have you tried this technique? If so, please share your thoughts.


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