How to Manage Anxiety - University of Houston
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How to Manage Anxiety

Anxiety Check

Everyone worries to some degree, and some thinking ahead can help us to plan and cope. There is no 'right' amount of worry. We say that worry becomes a problem when it stops you from living the life you want to live, or if it leaves you feeling demoralized and exhausted.

worry graphic; description below

  1. Normal Worry
    1. Helps you to get what you want
    2. Helps you to solve problems in your life
  2. Excessive Worry
    1. Leaves you feeling demoralized, upset, or exhausted
    2. Gets in the way of living the life you want to lead

What triggers worry and anxiety?

Anything can be a trigger for worry. Even when things go right, you might manage to think to yourself "but what if it all falls apart?". There are particular situations where worry becomes even more common, though. Strong triggers for worry are situations that are:

  • Ambiguous - open to different interpretations.
  • Novel and new - so we don't have any experience to fall back on.
  • Unpredictable - unclear how things will turn out.

Does any of this sound familiar at the moment? The current worldwide health situation ticks all of these boxes, and so it makes sense that people are experiencing a lot of worry. It is an unusual situation with much uncertainty, which can naturally lead us to worry and feel anxious.

Decision Tree

Use this decision tree to help you notice 'real problem' vs. 'hypothetical worry'

flow chart decision tree - see outline after image

What am I worrying about? Is this a problem I can do something about?

  1. If "no", Let the worry go and focus on something else that is important to you right now.
  2. If "yes", Work out what you could do. List your options. Is there anything I can do right now?
    1. If "no", Plan what you could do and when you will do it. Then let the worry go and focus on something else that is important to you right now.
    2. If "yes", Do it now. Then let the worry go and focus on something else that is important to you right now.

Decide when you will Worry—Delay Activity

People who are bothered by worry often experience it as uncontrollable, time-consuming, and sometimes believe that it is beneficial to engage in worry when it occurs. Experimenting with postponing your worries - deliberately set aside some time in your day to do nothing but worry and limiting the time you spend worrying - is a helpful way of exploring your relationship with worry. Follow the steps below for at least one week.

Step 1: Preparation

Decide when your worry time will be, and for how long it will be for.

  • Worry time is time you set aside every day for the specific purpose of worrying.
  • What time of day do you think you will be in the best frame of mind to attend to your worries?
  • When are you unlikely to be disturbed?
  • If you are unsure, 15 to 30 minutes every day at 7:00 pm is often a good starting point.

Step 2: Worry Postponement

During the day, decide whether worries that surface are 'real problem' worries you can act on now, or whether they are hypothetical worries that need to be postponed.

Is this a real problem worry I can do something about right now?

  1. If "yes", take action now.
  2. If "no", postpone thinking about it until worry time. Redirect your attention to the present by becoming mindful of the present moment:
    • use your senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste).
    • try to focus your attention externally rather than internally.
    • say to yourself "I'm not going to engage in this worry now, I will engage in thie worry later".

Step 3: Worry Time

Use your dedicated worry time for worrying. Consider writing down any of the hypothetical worries that you remember having had throughout the day. How concerning are they to you now? Are any of them the kinds of worries that can lead you to take practical actions?

  • Try to use all of your allocated worry time, even if you do not feel that you have much to worry about, or even if worries do not seem as pressing at this time.
  • Reflect upon your worries now - do they give you the same emotional 'kick' when you think about them now as they did when you first thought of them?
  • Can any of your worries be converted into practical problems to which you can look for a solution?