Scheduled Worry

Scheduled worry is a simple, daily exercise that will help you:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Stop overthinking
  • Fall asleep quickly & easily

Hi, I’m Nick Wignall. I’m a psychologist who helps folks with anxiety, chronic stress, insomnia, and everything else that comes from too much worry. One of the things I learned very quickly in my practice is that the best way to stop worrying so much is to make time to worry on purpose. Sounds just crazy enough to work, right?

How to Break Your Worry Habit in 10 Minutes a Day

Scheduled worry is pretty simple. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Pick a scheduled worry time. Aim for a window of time that will work every day of the week. For example: Every evening at 7:50, after I put the kids down but before I watch TV. Consistency is key, so choose a time you’re confident you can stick to most days.
  2. Set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes. Having a timer is important because you want to focus on your worry during your worry time, not how much time you do or don’t have left.
  3. Write your worries down on paper. Just start listing any and every worry you can think of. Doesn’t matter if it’s forgetting bananas at the grocery store or nuclear war. Importantly, don’t try to solve your worries—just list them and move on.
  4. Enforce good boundaries with your worry. During your scheduled worry time, worry hard! When your time is up, stop immediately and get back to your day. If you find yourself worrying throughout the day, remind yourself that you have a time for worry and will do it then, not now. From now on, you worry on paper, not in your head!

Watch Me Do Scheduled Worry

Want to see what doing scheduled worry actually looks like…

Frequently Asked Questions About Scheduled Worry

I’m skeptical… How will worrying on purpose help me worry less?

Scheduled worry is a mental exercise that trains your brain to worry at a specific time, and by extension, not at other times.

Think about how you potty train a new puppy…

  • When little Fido pees on the kitchen floor, you can’t just yell at him or explain logically why he should stop.
  • Instead, you need to train the puppy that there’s a right place to do its business by rewarding it for peeing there.
  • As a result, it will increasingly use only that spot and not all the other places around your house.

Similarly, if you want your brain to stop bombarding you with worries throughout the day, you can’t just yell at yourself to stop worrying or try to convince it logically. You need to train it to worry at the right time—this is why we scheduled time to worry on purpose, giving it our full attention, which is rewarding.

Over time, you will find yourself worrying a lot less at other points throughout the day because your brain is learning to worry at the right time.

Are there certain times of day that are best for doing scheduled worry?

Technically, you can do your scheduled worry at any time throughout the day.

Like most habits, the most important thing is that you do it consistently. So pick a time that gives you the highest likelihood of sticking with it long-term.

That being said, it’s my experience that early evening is often the best time for scheduled worry. It’s late enough in the day that plenty of worries have accumulated, but not so close to bed time that it will rev you up and make it hard to fall asleep.

Do I have to do scheduled worry at the same time every day?

No. As long as you’re doing it consistently that’s what matters.

That said, it’s usually much easier to stay consistent with a scheduled worry habit if it happens at a consistent time that makes sense given your schedule and responsibilities.

Won’t worrying on purpose just make me more anxious?

Imagine your personal trainer told you to lift some weight.

And them, in response, you said:

Lift weights… Won’t that just make me weaker and more tired?

What do you think they would say?

Probably something along the lines of:

Well, in the very short-term lifting weights will make you tired. But in the long run, lifting weights is a great way to build strength.

A similar principle applies to worry: Scheduled worry is an exercise, not a coping strategy. We’re doing this to fundamentally retrain your mental habits. This is about the long-game, not quick fixes and temporary relief.

That said, most people find that doing scheduled worry is actually far less worry-producing or anxiety-causing than they imagine. In fact, the majority of people in my experience often feel relieved after doing their scheduled worry.

Can I do scheduled worry on my computer or phone instead of pen and paper?

Sure. Like I said earlier, the most important thing is that you do it consistently.

However, I usually encourage people to do pen and paper if they can. The reason is that often writing things out by hand is a slower and more deliberate process. And when you confine your thinking speed to the speed of writing, it means you have fewer worried thoughts in a given period of time. And that means, less overall anxiety/stress/emotionality.

Should I keep my written-out worries and revisit them from time to time?

You can if you like, but I typically tell people that they can simply throw away their list of worries when they’re done.

The point of scheduled worry is in the action of doing worry deliberately and at a specific time. It’s about retraining your mind.

It’s not about the content of your worries—what they mean, where they come from, what to do with them, etc.

If your scheduled worry tends to contain a lot of to-do list type tasks and actual problems you can solve, you can hold onto it long enough to transfer items that come up onto your to-do list. Just make sure this is after your scheduled worry time.

How long do I have to keep doing scheduled worry?

In my experience, doing scheduled worry daily for 2-3 weeks is usually when you start to notice significant progress. It could take longer if you’re not as consistent.

So, if you do it for a couple weeks, find that it’s helped a lot, and then decide to stop, that’s totally fine. If your worry habit gets worse in the future, you can always reimplement it.

Very often, however, I’ve found that people end up finding the exercise so helpful that they just make a regular part of their routine, either continuing to do it daily or perhaps a few times a week.

I do scheduled worry whenever I start to feel worried but it only makes it worse!

Scheduled worry is an exercise, not a coping strategy! If you ran wind sprints before a race, you wouldn’t do very well on your race. You do wind sprints as an exercise or practice ahead of time so that you’re stronger at game time.

Similarly, scheduled worry is not something you do in response to a specific bout of worry or anxiety. It’s an exercise you do at a consistent time every day so that you don’t experience as much worry in the first place.

If you experience a sudden spike of anxiety throughout the day, take a rain check on your worry (see the next question).

What should I do when I find myself worrying outside of my scheduled worry time?

Take a rain check on your worry:

  • Acknowledge your worry. Tell yourself that you are worrying right now (labeling worrying plainly is important!). Validate your worry and any anxiety you have by reminding yourself that just because you don’t like your worry and anxiety doesn’t mean they’re bad or that you’re bad for having them.
  • Defer your worries until your scheduled worry time. Remind yourself that you have a dedicated time and place to worry and that you will address whatever you’re worrying about now then.
  • Refocus your attention back on the task at hand. You can’t control the worries your brain chooses to throw at you, but you can control your attention and what you choose to focus on. After you’ve reminded yourself of your scheduled worry time, put your focus back on what’s really important and do your best to keep it there.

Want to Learn More About Managing Worry and Anxiety?

I teach a course called Creating Calm where I share my best strategies and tools for overcoming chronic worry and anxiety. There’s a whole section in the course on Scheduled Worry plus dozens of other helpful lessons and tool.

Learn more about the course here →


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