Two Ways to Worry Less

In today’s post, I’m going to teach you two ways to worry less, based on some anxiety therapy strategies.

When I think about helping people manage worry, I think of it as a two step process.

    1. Challenge the thought  by practicing thinking in a more realistic, balanced way.
    2. Let it go. 

Let’s work on step one. 

ways to worry less

Step One: Challenge the worry thought

The first step to challenging your thoughts is to organize them into a core prediction. Worry thoughts often come to mind in a jumble of “what if…” thoughts. We want to take that jumble and distill it down to something we can examine more closely.

First, write down the thoughts as they come into your mind. For example:

“What if my boss thinks the results of my project aren’t good enough, that I’m a burden on the team, and that I should have tried harder?”

Then, turn this into a testable prediction. This means a statement (not a question) to summarize the thought. We do this so that we can be precise about exactly what we’re telling ourselves. Let’s focus on the first one:

“My boss will think the project isn’t good enough.”

Focusing on only the first worry that kicked off the chain of worry thoughts makes this process more manageable, and may help the worries that followed it seem less important/less necessary to spend time on. 

Examine the Evidence

Next, we’re going to examine the evidence for and against the worry prediction. We are looking for facts. I like to use the standard of what would be acceptable in a court of law.

For example, feelings are not acceptable as evidence in court. Having a feeling that a person is a murderer would not be very compelling to a judge or jury, right? Something like seeing the person with the murder weapon with your own eyes would be evidence.

The more that we can be objective and stick with the facts—not feelings, interpretations, or assumptions—the more we can be realistic about our prediction.

There are three questions you can ask yourself to help generate evidence for and against your prediction.

    1. What observable facts do I have to support this thought? What observable facts do I have that do not support this thought?
    2. If my best friend came to me with this worry, what would I tell them? My guess is that you’re much harder on yourself than you are on your friends or colleagues, or even strangers. For example, if your friend told you she was worried about her performance at work, you probably wouldn’t say, “You’re right! It sounds like your boss is really disappointed in you and you’re a total burden on her. You should probably just quit before she can fire you.”
    3. Have I had worries like this in the past? What happened? Think back to other times you have had similar worries. Of those times, how many times did they come true? Is there a low likelihood of this worry coming true?

Now, it’s time to work on the next anxiety therapy technique, which is letting the worry go.     

ways to worry less

Step Two: Let it go

This means I encourage you to think through the worry once. Spend time on it and engage with it using the process above. Sit down, write things out, come to some conclusion. But only do this once. After you’ve done that, your task is to let it go. 

Research shows that people who score high on measures of worry also tend to score high on measures of intolerance of uncertainty.

What is intolerance of uncertainty? It’s basically discomfort with the unknown. This can lead to attempts to try to control the future (with excessive planning, problem solving, and yes, worry). 

Worry involves thinking about the future. In some ways, imagining all the things that could happen in the future is an attempt to decrease uncertainty.

The problem is that the future is, by its nature, uncertain! All the planning and organizing and worry and other things we do to try to control it doesn’t change that. We just can’t know for sure.

So, the strategy I’m going to suggest here is giving some of that up. This is different from challenging your worry because I’m not asking you to actually look at the content of your worry and decide if it’s realistic or not.

Instead, I’m suggesting you ask yourself if the worry is actually helpful or if it’s an attempt to control the uncontrollable. If it is the latter, try practicing acceptance and letting go of the worry.

Questions to ask yourself in order to let thoughts go.

    1. Am I willing to give up some control in order to worry less?
    2. Can I practice tolerating uncertainty and accepting that I just can’t know some things (the future, other people’s thoughts, etc.).
    3. Is this helpful right now? What are the costs and benefits of this worry?

By accepting that the worry isn’t helpful right now, and acknowledging that you are willing to give up control/tolerate uncertainty, you can shift your attention onto something else. This is a process you will likely have to repeat several times. Keep reminding yourself gently that this thought pattern is not helpful and engage your attention elsewhere.

Now you’ve learned some methods for how to worry less.

Practice using these anxiety therapy strategies at least once per day. Remember that changing the way you relate to your worries is a skill, and skills take time and practice to develop. Be patient with yourself!

If you’re looking for other blogs about how to manage worry, try this post about how to take the first step and this one about scheduling time to worry.

We also love guided meditations for worry. This post from Headspace explains more.

If you’d like to talk to a professional about how to worry less about the future, work, your health, relationships or other topics, please feel free to contact us at or through the contact form on our website. We’re here to help.