10 Dec

by Justin Standfield

More than ever, one of the fundamental truths of managing stress is serving me well this week. Sometimes, the most stressful problem is the one that might happen: when we don’t know the outcome of a problem yet, it’s harder for us to plan our coping strategies. Logically, we all know that fretting doesn’t actually help us in any practical sense – but it’s easier said than done.

Worries need to be managed, especially at a time like this.

I would describe myself as a recovering worrier. That isn’t to say I don’t still worry about things occasionally, but instead it’s an acknowledgment that years ago I could have entered the Olympics if they had a category for worrying. The prospect of a possible problem – i.e. something that hadn’t actually happened yet – used to send my stress levels climbing and sometimes it would feel like a battle to bring any sense of balance back to my thinking. Worry itself is worrying – people who are worriers usually know that they are worrying unduly, and then they worry that they worry too much! Therefore, it’s wise to learn some techniques that support you in keeping your worrying in check.

In the 1980s, psychologist Thomas Borkovec created a four-step therapy model for people who worry excessively. The foundation of his approach is that if we worry throughout the day we start to associate certain places with worry; when we see those places again, we automatically start worrying. To break this cycle, here are Borkovec’s four steps:

  1. Identify which of your thoughts and feelings you class as ‘worry’.
  2. Set aside a time and place where you will think about the things that are worrying you.
  3. If you find that you’re worrying outside that time and place, postpone those thoughts until the assigned time, and refocus on what you were doing.
  4. Use your ‘worry time’ to look for/create solutions for the issues that are worrying you.

From my own experience, I can attest to these steps significantly lowering my stress levels. In a Dutch study conducted in 2011, volunteers who used Borkovec’s four-step process said that they felt calmer even if they just tried the first step; when they used all four, their worries decreased considerably.

Fear about COVID-19 has gripped the world; this new illness certainly is frightening and it does need our attention. Have you found yourself worrying excessively about scenarios that might happen? If so, give the above four steps a try and see if they help you.