The Surprising Therapist-Approved Technique That Can Squash Intrusive Thoughts
Feelings of anxiousness often creep up when you least expect them, so why not keep some helpful tips in your back pocket to help ease your mind in those moments? No, we're not going to tell you to meditate in the middle of a panic period because, well, that doesn't realistically work for many people.
Instead, here's a technique from Wall Street Journal bestselling author (and co-author of the recently published Big Feelings) Mollie West Duffy: "Dedicate a specific time to let [yourself] worry," she says on the mindbodygreen podcast. Here's how the method helps you work with your anxiety, instead of against it.
Why you should schedule time to worry.
Whether it's nervous thoughts about an upcoming event or a deeper, existential crisis—we all worry sometimes. It's not the worrying that's the issue; it's when the nervous thoughts get so loud that it's hard to focus on daily tasks or conversations with friends and family that can become a problem.
To mitigate intrusive thoughts that seemingly pop up out of nowhere, Duffy recommends scheduling in time to do just that: worry. Yep, she recommends you actually pencil in time to work through all of these thoughts lurking in the back of your mind and waiting for a moment in the spotlight.
"It often happens when I'm going to bed," says Duffy. "I have a pad of [paper] next to my bed now, and I'll just write down what I'm thinking about. And I'll say, 'I'm going to come back and think about this the next morning.'" See, your brain naturally sends you mental pings when tasks are left unfinished, so rather than trying to ignore those feelings, writing them down can help you feel more at ease—even if you don't necessarily have any answers. And more often than not, Duffy's nighttime worries don't feel nearly as intense the next day.
Clinical psychologist Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., even recommends creating an actual calendar event for your worry time. "For some people, it recurs every day for 10 minutes; for some people it's an hour, once a week, whatever [works] best," she explains on another episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. "And then when those feelings pop up, you just deposit them into the event details, and you give them their undivided attention when the time arrives."
If you find intrusive thoughts popping up more than once or twice a day, the latter technique may be helpful in order to keep all of them in one place. This way, you can come back to them in one sitting and release any further worry of forgetting to think through a certain topic. What's more, you'll be able to focus on your daily tasks and conversations knowing that you'll have time to address nervous thoughts later on.
Everyone experiences nerves differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all coping mechanism. However, it's a good idea to have some tried-and-true techniques on hand for whenever you find yourself spiraling down a rabbit hole of nervous thoughts. This worry-time technique comes recommended by multiple experts, and if you want to learn more, tune in to Duffy's full episode below or check out these helpful tips from Carmichael on dispelling nervous energy in your day-to-day life.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.