Worry is commonly associated with anxiety and depression, and even people who are not clinically anxious or depressed can be chronic worriers. Of course, worry is not usually regarded as an illness in itself while anxiety and depression can be, but there’s a theory that chronic worry can eventually lead to these illnesses.
A series of audio presentations by probably the world’s leading expert on worry outlines his seven-step programme for defeating it.
Dr Robert L. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York, president of The International Association for Cognitive Psychotherapy, and past president of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, knows a thing or two about CBT.
In Conceptualization I briefly reviewed an article of his about using the therapeutic alliance to overcome obstacles in therapy.
In 2006 his book, The Worry Cure was published, and last month the Depression Center at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, made a talk he gave at a conference there publicly available as a set of audio clips.
Leahy starts out by explaining how to worry. There are seven rules (eight, really) — from page 4 in the book:
- If something bad could happen—if you can simply imagine it—then it’s your responsibility to worry about it.
- Don’t accept any uncertainty—you need to know for sure.
- Treat all of your negative thoughts as if they are really true.
- Anything bad that could happen is a reflection of who you are as a person.
- Failure is unacceptable.
- Get rid of any negative feelings immediately.
- Treat everything like an emergency.
And the eighth is:
Worry about worrying.
What not to do
Some of the things that people do to try and cope with worry don’t work (p. 44):
- Seeking reassurance
- Trying to stop your thoughts
- Collecting information
- Checking over and over
- Avoiding discomfort
- Numbing yourself with alcohol, drugs and food
- Using safety behaviors
- Always trying to make a great impression
- Ruminating—chewing it over and over
- Demanding certainty
- Refusing to accept the fact that you have crazy thoughts
The cure also has seven steps (p. 6):
- Identify productive and unproductive worry.
- Accept reality and commit to change.
- Challenge your worried thinking.
- Focus on the deeper threat.
- Turn “failure” into opportunity.
- Use your emotions rather than worry about them.
- Take control of time.
I don’t want to give the impression that Leahy’s approach is all about lists. It’s just that quoting them is a useful way to summarize the approach.
Leahy is a renowned CBT therapist who understands that all of us are part rational, part emotional, part crazy, and that being all of these things at once, being human, is just great.
He’s an excellent speaker, too, so whether you’re a worrier or not, I highly recommend this talk: