Worry Time

Stop … Worry Time!

I never wore parachute pants, but I remember them being popular in the late 1980s where I was living. When I think of them, I think of the now famous versions donned by MC Hammer. In 1990, MC Hammer released his album, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, and “U Can’t Touch This” became a super hit single and the hip hop artist’s signature song. Lyrics from the song — “You can’t touch this!” and “Stop … Hammer time!” — became pop culture catchphrases. MC Hammer’s fame wasn’t just about parachute pants and dance moves!

If you have ever gone to therapy for a sense of anxiety, or have done any research on your own for ideas about how to reduce anxiety, you have likely heard or run across the idea of scheduling “Worry Time.” In its simplest form, “Worry Time” is a specific amount of time (say, 30 minutes) at a certain time each day (10:00pm, for example) that we set aside for allowing ourselves to focus on our worry, and nothing else; we can think about this time as an appointment with Worry. When we start to feel anxious at other times during the day, we acknowledge the feeling, validate the experience for ourselves, but we postpone our worry until our next designated “Worry Time.”

“Worry Time” is a paradoxical prescription of the very problem that constitutes our complaint; as such, it sounds like a ridiculously counter-intuitive response to many of us. Right now, in fact, you might be saying to yourself, “What? Schedule time to worry? I want to STOP my worrying!” Trying to stop our anxious thoughts “cold turkey” in any given moment is a response often referred to as “thought stopping.” To get a sense of how attempts at “thought stopping” often actually backfire on us, I’m wondering if you might be willing to try a little experiment …

If you are willing, take a few moments to watch the music video of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” below. Once you are finished with the video, spend a few more moments thinking about all that you saw and heard – everything from the aspects of setting and choreography that caught your attention to the lyrics and details of dancers’ wardrobes (ah, yes, parachute pants … I wonder whatever happened to those!). Now, once you have thought about the video for a few minutes, I want you to stop thinking about it. Don’t think about the music video at all for the next five minutes!

How did you do?

If you are like most of us, you struggled with stopping your thoughts “cold turkey,” and found that trying to stop your thoughts just kept you focused on them. Whether our thoughts are about “U Can’t Touch This!” or our worries, we tend to be more able to postpone our focus on them for the time being than to stop them completely. Essentially, when we have scheduled “Worry Time” for ourselves, and find ourselves worrying at other times during the day, we are able to say to ourselves, “Stop … (wait until) Worry Time!” We avoid the trap of “thought stopping.”

When the time that we have scheduled for “Worry Time” arrives, then – 10:00pm, in my example from the featured image for this post – we follow-through, and allow ourselves the opportunity to focus on our worry. Whatever else we may be doing, we say to ourselves, “Stop … (now it is) Worry Time!” Think of MC Hammer’s line, “Stop … Hammer time!” The frequent result of engaging in “Worry Time” is finding that a focus on worry for the whole time we have allotted — 30 minutes, for instance — is more difficult than we expected. We can actually find ourselves getting bored with our worry! We might even start thinking about what we would rather be doing with our “Worry Time” and eventually, intentionally choosing to do these other things! What we learn in the process is that anxiety has less control over us than we had been telling ourselves. With practice, over time, we discover that we are more frequently able to say to anxiety, in the words of MC Hammer, “You can’t touch this!”

Here’s to your increasing calm and confidence!

For more ideas about anxious thinking, and responses that help us foster a greater sense of calm and confidence in our lives, feel free to see other Thought Tonic posts at thoughttonic.com; you can follow this blog via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter. If you would like further information about the idea of “Worry Time” in particular, feel free to contact me, Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT. Thank you for reading!

Gratitude

Thanks, Not Angst

This week, many of us will be celebrating the U.S. holiday that we call Thanksgiving. On Thursday, November 22, we will gather together with family and friends, ideally over a hearty harvest meal, and take time to give thanks for the people we love and what is going well in our lives. We will count and share our blessings.

Many of us, this coming Thursday, will also be aware of feeling anxious. Our anxiety may be a response to thoughts about the social situations involved in celebrating Thanksgiving itself, or we may already be thinking ahead to the myriad pressures, social and otherwise, that are so often part of the rest of the holiday season. Lucky us, that Thanksgiving provides a ready antidote – in the form of its very focus on gratitude!

A cognitive-behavioral approach to anxiety often looks at how we may be fueling our feelings by what we pay attention to and what we remember. Many of us who experience anxiety tend to focus on what is consistent with our self-doubt, our sense of the world as unpredictable and unsafe, our assumptions that others are thinking negatively of us and will likely reject us, our expectations of a worst-case scenario, and the like. We dismiss or minimize, if not completely ignore, experiences that we could describe as positive and for which we would likely feel thankful. If we are giving a talk and notice that some of the members of the audience seem bored, we do not see that others appear to be enjoying our presentation. If we muster our courage to talk to someone we like at a party, we remember only having tripped over our words at some point, rather than how smoothly the rest of the conversation went. We engage in selective attention and memory.

I suggest that, as a response to anxiety, the practice of gratitude does not simply help us think more positively; it supports us in thinking more realistically. For those of us who struggle with feeling anxious, giving thanks balances out our tendency to concentrate on what we fear and interpret as negative, our inclination to “screen out” all other aspects of and ways of looking at our experiences. Some of us may practice gratitude by writing down what we’re thankful for in a journal every day; others of us may take time to meditate on the topic, or to share our sense of blessings with friends or family members. Whatever methods we choose, the practice of gratitude can, in time, help us develop an increased sense of calm and confidence – one more thing for which we can be thankful!

I hope that you’ll find ways to give yourself the gift of thanks, not angst – not only this Thursday, as you celebrate Thanksgiving, but all year long. What are ideas that you have about how you can practice gratitude? What are ways in which you already do?

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For additional information about counseling and coaching resources for calm and confidence, visit scottburnskahler.com.

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