How 'worry procrastination' could help you tackle anxiety

We tend to think of procrastination as a bad habit.

But what if we used it for good?

That’s a suggestion neuroscientist and psychologist Albert Moukheiber makes in this week’s episode of our mental health podcast, Mentally Yours.

Albert suggests we do something he calls ‘stress procrastination’; essentially, the act of ‘procrastinating’ our worries for later.

‘Sometimes I tell people in therapy: procrastinator your stress,’ Albert tells us. ‘We always talk about procrastination as a bad thing, because we’re procrastinating the things we should do.

‘But you can also procrastinate the things we shouldn’t do.

‘Create some sort of temporary displacement – worry about this in two hours and see if it’s still useful.’

The idea is that when we’re hit by an anxiety spiral, we tell ourselves that we’ll put off that stress for a later moment, for a scheduled ‘worry time’ when we give outselves permission to stress out.

This isn’t about ignoring or dismissing negative emotions, but simply mentally shifting them to another time – so we can get on with whatever else we want to be doing in the moment.

‘The benefits of delaying a focus on unpleasant feelings is that it allows them to be expressed while fitting around your life in a way that is productive,’ Marios Georgiou, psychological wellbeing practitioner at Private Therapy Clinic, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Once you have noticed that you are worrying too much or that it is occurring at time that are not helpful or appropriate, you can consider siphoning off time dedicated to allowing yourself to express these feelings.

‘What happens then is you feel relief for accepting that the emotion is there and is asking for your attention, and that the need will be met, while respecting the fact that you must prioritise important parts of your life to ensure you don’t fall into a worry cycle that spirals out of control and other areas of significance are affected e.g. relationships, work, your health.’

There’s another big benefit to ‘worry procrastination’ – often, you’ll find that when your scheduled ‘worry time’ hits, the thing that was causing you anxiety has resolved itself, or it no longer matters.

It’s important that if you’re going to give ‘worry procrastination’ a go, you do it in an effective way. Here’s how.

How to engage in ‘worry procrastination’

Interrupt the thought cycle

The first step: recognising when you’re worrying and taking a moment to acknowledge and interrupt this type of thinking.

‘There are several therapy approaches that are quick to learn and work successfully to break the pattern of worry/anxiety thinking,’ says psychologist Sally Baker.

‘Some techniques are physical, so you break the hold worrying thoughts have by doing something physical; others are about clicking your fingers or saying a sound in your mind that acknowledges a thought is just a bullsh*t worrying thought.

‘Imagine there’s an imaginary switch that can be embedded in your conscious mind that can be thrown to turn off anxiety when worrying thoughts feel overwhelming.’

Tell yourself you will worry about this issue later

Talk to yourself for a moment, telling yourself that while you’re allowed to worry, it’s not the best time to do it.

Tell yourself a time when you can work through these anxieties. Marios recommends making a note in your phone or diary so you can remember to address the worry at a later moment.

Marios recommends: ‘Even if it’s a recurring worry, try to be specific about what form this is taking today e.g. “I am worried about my next performance review at work” and “I am worried I will not get my bonus this year and I need one” may be in the same area of work but it is best to specify how the worry manifests on that day.’

Create a ‘worry time’

‘Either have a regular slot daily or weekly (depending on how often these worries are impacting your life) blocked out in your calendar where you allow yourself to explore these feelings,’ suggests Marios.

‘Try to do this in the same place, whether it’s a room at home or somewhere else you feel safe and able to relax before you begin the exercise.’

During ‘worry time’, work through your list of stresses

‘Go through your list and either think through or write out exactly how you feel and why you think you feel this way,’ Marios advises. ‘Writing or speaking out loud are preferable to just internally thinking about the problem, because the latter is a bit more amorphous, whereas sentences we write or say will give structure to your thoughts and feelings, which helps

‘Once you’ve spelled out one of your worries, start to question what that worry really means, some questions you might ask are:

  • If this is true, it worries me because … (and once you answer this, repeat the question for the answer you gave until you can’t answer it again, this will get to the root of your worries)
  • How will I feel about this issue in a year? How about three years? How about five or 10 years? (this puts it in perspective)
  • What am I in control of with regards to this worry? Out of the things I am in control of, what next step would I like to take to put myself in a better position?
  • If my best friend or other loved one were in this exact position, what would I advise them to do and how would I acknowledge their worries?’

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