Designated Worry

 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes                                                                                                                                                                            Matthew 6:34 (The Message)

I spoke to a client recently who has generalized anxiety. This often manifests to her as intrusive thoughts which distract her from her current activity. The distractions can be either external (messy room, clutter) or internal (“I need to be doing this or that before I forget it”, etc.). Both are manifestations of that nagging little voice of anxiety that reminds us that something isn’t right, or something needs to be done- but it is typically never enough. Never enough, that is, to quell the anxious thoughts for very long.

I suggested to her that practical behaviors can help to combat the intrusive thoughts. Often we can’t help that thoughts just pop into our head. Our brains are always at work (thank God). We can however, control our reactions to those thoughts. We can manage, behaviorally, those thoughts which are hard to control.

I suggested to her that she have a scrap of paper, or a pad, next to her computer, and that she write down those thoughts which remind her of things she ought to do- the never ending “Do List” that is often not practical anyway. After all, anxiety is defined as irrational fears, or overreactions to actual reality. When the thought comes that she should be doing something else- a distraction to her current needed work- she write down that thought, whatever it might be, so that she can attend to it on her own manageable time frame. She becomes in control of the process.

This does several things. First, it gives her a sense of control of her behaviors and her own time schedule. Next, it honors the thought by writing it down. She does not need to try to dismiss it (that often does not work), rather, she delegates it to another, more practical time that she controls. She is then not trying to shove thoughts out of her head. She is recognizing them, taking control of when she wants to take care of them, then gets on with her needed task.  In the counseling world, that technique is called “designated worry”.

As I have said before, getting those unwanted thoughts out of our head and on to paper gives us a sense of management. Control is the antidote to worry. The key is to know what we CAN control, and what we CANNOT control.

Prayer: Lord, help us to discern what we can control. The rest we give to you, Amen.

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