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Get Unhooked From Worries

1. Set Aside Worry Time
2. Check the Facts
3. Be Open to Uncertainty
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Distracting, persistent negative thoughts floating through the mind can make it challenging to concentrate. They can pop up at anytime, while playing a game with your child, folding clothes, writing a report for work, the mind tends to stay occupied showing us all the possible things we "need to do" or "should do". Like watching a horror film, the mind can also take us into hypothetical situations where the worst possible what-if's happen. It's as if our mind is like a big red dog that wants to go out for a walk, and when it pulls, we're pulled with it.

Unfortunately, the mind does not possess a 'delete' button. Interestingly, the mind has an uncanny way of making the idea bigger when we don't want to think about it. In other words, the more we resist, the more it persists, so telling ourselves to not think of the unwanted idea will cause more of that idea to be.

The evidence-based strategies to get unhooked from these worries are somewhat counter-intuitive and paradoxical. They involve willingness to go to them, as opposed of them going to you. The strategies below are practical ways to go-to our worries.

1. Set Aside Worry Time

Scheduling 10-30 minutes a day to intentionally write down our worry thoughts on paper is a Cognitive-Behavioral technique that allows us to really become aware of the thoughts that cause worry and anxiety. This also allows you to go to your worries, as opposed to them springing up throughout the day.

1. Choose a time that is at least 2-hours before bedtime; the most helpful time is early in the morning before you hit your day running.

2. Give yourself at least a good 10-minutes to use a pencil and paper to begin writing out your thoughts

3. Try labeling your thoughts by using the following statements:

  • I notice having the thought that __________________________________________

  • I notice having the what-if thought that ____________________________________

  • I notice having a list of to-do's, like ________________________________________

  • I notice having the thought that I should____________________________________

  • I notice having the thought that I should, because ___________________________

4. Make room for, allow, and be open to ​looking at each thought without judging yourself or the thought, with a gentle curiosity


2. Check the Facts

When our worries pop into our mind we oftentimes assume that they are 100% accurate and factual, because they sort of feel real with all the tension, stomach-churning, unease they can create in our bodies. And yet, if we step back to consider how accurate our predictions are, reality often times trumps our best hypothetical what-ifing.

  1. Write the worry thought or thoughts on paper, feel free to use your thoughts from your worry time.

  2. Describe only the facts that you observe with your 5-senses, what you heard, saw, touched, etc... for that thought; for example "I know I'll fail my exam" vs "I studied for the exam 3 hours a day for the past 5 days, and yet, there's a lot of information to cover. I don't know if I studied enough."

  3. Assess level of threat. Is there a real threat to you or a loved one's well-being or are you assuming a threat? Are there any other possible outcomes that could occur?

  4. What's the worst that could happen? If it did happen, imagine yourself responding in a helpful way, and coping well. What would help in that moment? Who could you reach out to? What would be a helpful next step, or what would be the minimum needed?

3. Be Open to Uncertainty

We don't know what we don't know. After examining what-if scenarios in our minds, problem-solving for them, and troubleshooting as best we can, the next step is an intentional shift or choice to be fully present in the moment. This action is choosing to be present with the who and the what that is more important to you in the here and now. Openness to uncertainty and to the present moment does not mean being resigned to whatever happens, it is not literally "whatever". It's actually the very opposite. By allowing ourselves to be fully present in the moment we are more able to respond in a flexible and meaningful way.

  1. Practice willingness. Willingness involves looking at what is as opposed to how we want things to be, in the here and now. Respond to the here and now by doing just what is needed, in the moment. For example, our mind may demand that we check off every item on our to-do list for work and/or home, and yet willingness is being open to looking at the list and choosing just what is needed so you can have more time for yourself, your friends, or your family.

  2. Use your 5-senses to shift your attention to the present moment, kind of like a gear shift. If you're around others listen carefully to what they are saying, look at their eyes or faces; if you're doing the dishes feel the temperature of the water, smell the soap, notice your hand movements and how automatic they seem. 

  3. Be open and willing to feel the unease in your body when we face the unknown. What we resist, persists. The more we try to push away these sensations, the more of them we'll have.

    • Take 5-minutes and notice the tightness in your chest with gentle curiosity, or watch your stomach churn with the same, non-judgmental and gentle curiosity.

    • These sensations are just that, sensations. Not good or bad, or right or wrong, they just are, they'll come and go, and even change in their intensity as we watch them.

    • They're not here to hurt us, they're not proof that there's something wrong with us. Just the opposite, they point to the fact that we're human and not perfect.


Medical Disclaimer

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.

1. McGowan, Sarah, K., and Behar, Evelyn. A Preliminary Investigation of Stimulus Control Training for Worry: Effects on Anxiety and Insomnia. Behavior Modification, 2012; DOI:

2. Grupe, D. W., & Nitschke, J. B. Uncertainty and Anticipation in Anxiety: An integrated neurobiological and psychological perspective, National Reviews Neuroscience. 2013, 14(7), 488-50. DOI: 10.1038/nrn3524

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