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How to Stop Worrying

Worrying doesn't prevent things from happening, it just means you suffer twice if they do. Here are three strategies to help you stop worrying. 

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
7-minute read
Episode #246

Tip #3: Lean into the worst case scenario. 

Here’s the chainsaw I promised you. This tool is not for the faint of heart, but it gets the job done. Time to go deep. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Try this. To break yourself out of the shallow, verbal, “what if” realm of worry, actually imagine the worst-case scenario. Picture whatever you fear vividly, in great detail, as if it were the worst scene in your personal horror movie.

Go big. If you’re worried you’ll end up alone, picture yourself alone in a depressing apartment on Christmas with no one to call. If you’re worried you’ll end up a failure, picture yourself living under a bridge. If you’re worried about health or safety, don’t necessarily picture the car accident or the moment you’re diagnosed with cancer; instead, picture the worst-case scenario of the grief and loss that follows. 

You know you’ve found the right image if it brings a tear to your eye. Once you’ve found it, picture it in your mind’s eye as vividly as possible and sit for five minutes with the big yucky emotions it brings up. Set a timer so you’re not tempted to throw in the towel. Then do it again. And again. The next day, rinse and repeat. Do it until it gets boring.

You know you’ve found the right image if it brings a tear to your eye. Once you’ve found it, picture it in your mind’s eye as vividly as possible and sit for five minutes with the big yucky emotions it brings up.

Because it will. As horrifying as the exercise is at the outset—after all, who wants to picture themselves sad, alone, filled with regret, grieving, or having failed?—only the first couple times really sear your soul. After that, one of two things will happen. Either your brain will realize your horror movie would never actually happen—you’d take action before things got that far—or your brain will get bored with the repetition that never comes to fruition.

Psychologists call this imagery exposure. It’s a doozy, and best done with a trained mental health professional, not because it’s dangerous—it’s not—but because it’s helpful to have someone to help you troubleshoot and keep you on task.

So to wrap it all up, we worry because we’d rather feel bad than worse. But if we roll back the worry, we realize feeling bad wasn’t keeping us safe after all. And maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to let ourselves feel good. In other words, don’t worry, be happy. 

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.