Working with Worry

We've just released a new Series about Working with Worry, and asked Dr Kate Daley, it's creator, about her top tips for managing worry.


I remember many years ago one of my patients describing their worry to me. They described the experience as similar to a funfair game “whac-a-mole”. They explained, like the mole, their worry would pop up at random, demanding their attention. When they tried to tackle it head-on by (metaphorically hitting it on the head with a mallet!) it would disappear below the surface but would quickly re-appear in the form of another worry somewhere else. They would turn their attention to deal with this new worry and another would appear. They explained that this would go on and on, wearing them down. They were constantly working to tackle worries and were trapped in a game that they could never win asking themselves what if, what if, what if.


This metaphor really stuck with me and I’ve used it ever since. It summarised in a much better way than I ever could the exhausting and relentless nature of worry. This rather neat little metaphor shows exactly how we should be helping the 86% of adults who consider themselves worriers. We shouldn’t just tell people to stop worrying or give people the mallet to take down the specific worry. Rather, we should equip them with more techniques to address the worry process, taking down the factors which are underneath driving it.


Within the Working with Worry Series we do just that, we look at strategies to use in the here and now to make worries less overwhelming and address the factors which are maintaining it.


My top 3 tips to start tackling worry today would be :


  1. Use worry time. Write your worries down. Rather than thinking about them in that moment, tell yourself you will come back to them later, and focus on something else. Allocate 30 minutes in your day to think about and work through your worries. You might notice themes and you might even find some of the worries are no longer relevant. This helps give some control back over your worry so you’re not exhausting yourself spending the whole day trying to knock each worry on the head.


  1. Ask yourself “then what”. Often our worries are hypothetical. What if I get fired, what if I get unwell, what if the presentation doesn’t go well? It is really common to pause at the worst part of the story rather than thinking through what would happen next (then I’ll look for another job; I’ll go to the doctors; I’ll try better next time). What you would do and how you would cope. Facing the worry in this way can often take some of the heat out of it. Things are often less dangerous than our worry leads us to believe, and we often cope better than we expect. The more we do these things, the less worry will rear its head!


  1. Spend more time in the present. When we worry we are getting lost in the future, or sometimes in the past. Try to become more aware of everything around you. Pay attention to your senses, to your own breath. Try to slow down, bring your attention back onto the current moment. The more you stay in the present, the less time there is to be lost in worry.

Thanks, Kate!

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 To find out more about Dr Kate Daley, click here.


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