Designated worry time
Are you one of those people who get preoccupied with stuff, so that the "stuff" gets in the way of sleeping (and sometimes living, too)? Are there times when you just can't seem to stop worrying, planning, problem-solving, rehearsing the future? Then read on...
Psychotherapists working with anxiety came up with a technique called designated worry time. Here is how it works. Set aside between 10 and 30 minutes each day (not too close to bedtime) where you would do nothing but worry (or plan, problem-solve, rehearse the future...). When the time comes, ask yourself what you are worried about and then worry about it really well. Don't try to make yourself feel better, imagine the worst-case scenario, live through it. Don't go on to the next worry until you are truly finished with the first. If ten minutes have not passed yet and you are out of worries, start from the beginning.
Any other time of the day, if you notice yourself worrying, you will need to tell your mind (whom you could also give a name, this is a very useful twist to this exercise – what's a good name for that nagging voice?):
- Ok, mind, thanks for this. I can see what you are trying to do here, I know you have my best interests in mind (pun totally intended). And you can absolutely worry about this. In fact, I think you should. Except for today, you have already used up your time to worry, it will have to wait till tomorrow. You are welcome to take concrete steps to solve the problem or research the situation, but worrying is not till tomorrow at11am.
Talking to your mind, in general, is useful because it teaches you that you are more than just the contents of your mind. This can be quite a liberating insight for people who, like yours truly, tend to live in their heads. Learning to postpone worrisome thoughts also leads to a greater sense of peace and, let's face it, frees up a lot of time to actually get stuff done.
This exercise may sound silly, but I can attest to its great effects. I somehow discovered this technique on my own when I was suffering from early wake-ups (inability to fall back asleep after just six hours of sleep). This was going on for months. One such early morning I was lying in bed trying to solve a very complicated logistical problem related to selling real estate and my mind was going in circles and telling me that nothing was going to work. And then at some point, I asked myself:
- Do you really need to be thinking about this at 5 am? There is simply not enough information right now to solve this, can this wait till tomorrow? This is not even urgent, it's months, maybe even years from now. Nor do you have to solve this on your own. Plus, I've heard this "nothing's gonna work" so many times that it's getting a bit old. Everything has worked out somehow, so far.
This was the first time after all those months that I was able to fall back asleep and slept until it was time to get up.