How to Use a Worry Diary

Following on from:

we'll take a look here at how you use one in practice.

If you haven't already, download your free Worry Diary Template so you can quickly jot down and analyze your worries.

Your Worry Diary Entries

When you start worrying about something, make an entry in your Worry Diary as soon as possible, even if you worry about the same thing at different points throughout the day.

Start by filling out the date (if it’s the first entry of the day), time and some details about your worry:

Worry Diary sample extract showing Date and Time

Write as much – or as little – about your worry as you want to. The main thing is to capture enough information to easily recall the worry when reading your entry back.

Next, classify your worry as a hypothetical or practical worry:

Worry Diary sample extract showing Worry details

A hypothetical worry is about something that may happen. A practical worry focuses on an event or situation that has occurred (and that you can do something practical about).

Now rate the intensity of your worry:

Worry Diary sample extract showing Intensity and Re-focus information

You’ll record powerful, distressing worries as ten and mild less intense worries as one.

It’s also important to capture how you re-focused away from your worry. This action could be something you chose to do (such as crushing fruit) or an unexpected event that took your attention away from the worry.

Worry Time

In short, Worry Time is when you permit yourself to worry about things, almost to the point of forcing yourself to worry about the problems and situations you’ve recorded in your Worry Diary.

Set aside five to ten minutes towards the end of your day for Worry Time, when you’ll read through the entries in your Worry Diary.

Worry Time doesn’t have to be precisely at the same time each day, so fit it around the rest of your plans and arrangements.

While actively “worrying” during Worry Time, you should also analyze your worries to gain insight on your coping mechanisms.

Read through each entry in your Worry Diary, paying particular attention to the worry, intensity and how you re-focused.

Rows of question marks

Some helpful questions to ask yourself about each worry include:

  • Does the worry feel as intense during Worry Time as when you experienced it earlier that day?
  • Are you worrying about the same (or similar) thing at the same time each day?
  • When re-focusing, what techniques or actions are most effective?

Look for patterns in your worries, either with underlying problem (the “heart” of the worry), intensity or your re-focusing.

When you find a pattern, try to identify why it occurs. For example, are you always intensely worrying about something first thing in the morning because you’re tired?

Where patterns result in positive outcomes (such as noticing that a particular type of re-focusing works better than others), you should maintain the behavior creating the pattern.

You should aim to break patterns leading to adverse outcomes, such as worrying more in the evening after drinking alcohol.

If worries feel less intense during Worry Time than when recorded initially, this creates an ideal opportunity for you to challenge their validity. Hypothetical worries are good candidates to challenge as they concern something that may happen but has not yet come to pass.

To challenge a hypothetical worry, talk through the problem or situation in your head. Are you logical about the worry’s probability or severity? What arguments can you think of in favor of the worry as opposed to those that discredit it?

Putting It All Together

Reviewing and looking for patterns in your worries supports the process of clear, rational thinking about the problem or situation causing the worry. Ultimately, this analysis is how you dispel hypothetical worries or problem-solve your way to resolving practical worries.

Practicing Worry Time each day encourages a response behavior when you push anxious, intense focus on the heart of your worry from when you experience (and record) it to the future (Worry Time).

A relaxed woman

Deferring focus on your worry to a set time encourages a behavior where you:

  • Start worrying about something
  • Realize you’re focusing on the underlying problem or situation driving the worry
  • Record the worry in your Worry Diary
  • Re-focus and get on with your day

rather than dwelling on the worry and risk becoming more anxious or stressed about it.

Understanding the best ways to re-focus away from a worry is also useful, so you know what works best, or is most effective at certain times of day. For example, lying down and relaxing for five minutes may work well in the evening, but may not be beneficial first thing in the morning when you’re getting the children ready for school.

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