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Worry Control: Train Yourself to Stop Irrational and Frightening Thinking

Updated on February 19, 2018
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Anne has a BSc in applied psychology and qualifications in counselling, CBT and mindfulness. She teaches mindfulness workshops and courses.

Worried | Source

Chronic worrying can cause physical illness

Mindfulness Meditation
At least once a day
Think Positive
Takes Training and Practice
Whenever you catch yourself worrying
Confront Your Worries
Ask yourself a) "How likely is it?" b) "what's the worst that could happen?"c) "What can I do to reduce the odds of it happening?"
Whenever you catch yourself worrying
Train yourself to stop the worrying thoughts
Say "STOP!"
Whenever you catch yourself worrying
Train yourself to replace the worrying thoughts
Say "There's no need to be afraid", "Everything is fine," "All is well".
Whenever you catch yourself worrying
See below for more details on all of these techniques

Worry Control Techniques

Normal worrying

Everybody worries at times; it’s a natural response to a threat.

The threat can be to our personal safety or the safety of our loved ones, or a threat to our happiness or even to our lifestyle.

But if the threat turns out to be unlikely, or the consequences would not actually be all that bad, then our worry usually turns to mild concern, or perhaps we forget about the threat altogether.

However, worry is a problem when it becomes chronic and persistent, when we worry about nonexistent or highly unlikely threats or when we consistently worry about the same things again and again. [1]

Consistently thinking irrational and frightening thoughts can lead to chronic anxiety.
Consistently thinking irrational and frightening thoughts can lead to chronic anxiety. | Source

Difference between natural worrying and excessive worrying

For example, Jane is working on her college assignment.

She is familiar with the subject, has plenty of good resources at her fingertips and has always got good grades from her professor up to now.

But she’s worried that this time will be different.

  • What if I don’t know enough?
  • What if my writing is not up to standard?
  • What if I don’t get the assignment done on time?
  • What if I get sick and can’t finish it?

Given Jane’s performance up to now and the fact that she knows her subject and has all the information she needs, all of these worries are highly unlikely.

Even if she does become ill, a doctor’s note will get her an extension. Her worrying is irrational and unnecessary.

Now suppose Kerry has the same assignment, but she’s not so familiar with the subject.

She may very well worry that she won’t get a good grade. But she goes to the library and/or the internet and finds out as much as she can about the subject. She makes a list of things to do for the assignment and works out a timetable. She begins the assignment as soon as possible rather than leaving it to the last minute so that if something happens that she can’t work on it for a couple of days, it won’t matter too much.

Kerry’s worry in this situation was rational, but instead of continually worrying and worrying, she takes control and creates a situation where the likelihood of getting a bad grade is diminished.

The difference between Jane and Kerry could be put down to personality types.

But Jane’s excessive worrying is chronic and is causing her constant anxiety. It could also affect her decision making abilities, because she is making choices based on fear rather than on reason.


Ways to control the worrying

Changing a habit of chronic worrying does not happen overnight.

It takes motivation and persistence and may even require the assistance of a professional therapist. However, here are some techniques that have been tried and tested:[2]

1. Try to find twenty minutes or so every day and practice some relaxation techniques, such as Meditation. Try if possible to keep to the same time every day.

2. Train yourself to think positive rather than negative thoughts.

3. Make a habit of confronting your worries:

a) Get a pen and notebook and write down your biggest worry. Then write down the worst case scenario of that happening. Rate your anxiety out of 100 on that subject. (For example, Jane’s anxiety on flunking her assignment scores an 80)

b) Remembering that most people somehow cope even in the most disastrous of situations, think about what you would actually do in this situation. (Jane might think: “okay, I can lower my sights a little and work a bit harder.)

c) Think of some coping actions. (Jane might begin writing her assignment early, or find a study buddy to help her keep on track)

d) Revise the worst case scenario consequences: (I don’t have to get top grades every time. Other people don’t always get top grades and they do just fine. Besides, I have got good grades up to now, so I’m unlikely to fail the module.)

e) Rate your anxiety score now (Jane’s may have reduced to 60)

f) Look at the actual evidence against the worst case scenario. (Jane knows her subject, has all her resources at her fingertips and has always done well up to this).

g) Look at a possible alternative outcome (Jane will probably do okay. And even if she doesn’t, she will probably still pass the module)

h) Rate your anxiety once more (Hopefully Jane’s score would now be nearer 25-30).

Of course this isn’t easy and it won’t work first time or even every time. But it does work sometimes and the more you do it the more often it will work until it becomes a habit. Eventually you won’t even have to write it all down but will do it automatically in your head when you catch yourself worrying excessively or unnecessarily.

4. Whenever you find yourself worrying or having reoccurring frightening thoughts, you can train yourself to stop by the following technique. [3]

a) When you are alone, set a timer for 3 minutes, close your eyes and allow yourself to think freely. Pretty soon you’ll probably be thinking about the situation that is worrying you. When the timer goes off, shout “Stop” loudly. Reset the timer and repeat the exercise. Do this everyday for a week.

b) Repeat the above exercise for 3 days, but say “Stop” in a normal speaking voice.

c) Repeat again for a further 3 days, but whisper “Stop”

d) Now, in your mind, shout “Stop”

e) Continue shouting “Stop” in your mind whenever you find yourself having frightening thoughts wherever you are. (Some people wear an elastic band around their wrist and snap it while shouting “Stop”)

f) Finally, force yourself to replace the frightening thoughts with more pleasant, positive affirmation. For example, “Everything is fine. There’s no need to be afraid. “ And list reasons not to be afraid.

Again, this will take patience and practice, but it does work.

Learn to relax
Learn to relax | Source

Therapy for excessive worrying

Therapists are there to help us. If you find you can’t cope alone with chronic worrying, find yourself a therapist.

I live in Ireland and don’t know the situation in the U.S or other countries. But here, the local family doctor will refer you. Perhaps that’s a good place to start in any country?

And remember, whatever problems we have, we can be sure that we are not the only ones with that problem. Any Therapist will tell you that.

A Gift from Me to You. Guided Mindfulness Meditation



[1]McKay, M.,Davis, M. andFanning P. (1997) Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

[2] John R.White (1999).Overcoming Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Client Manual. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

[3] Bain, (1928) Thought Control in Everyday Life.


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