Letting Go of Worries

June 20th, 2010

This post summarises resources produced by the Centre for Clinical Interventions


Worry is future-focused self talk that often takes the form of “what if…” questions. It is often misconstrued as problem solving. It is of little value. Unhelpful strategies to prevent worrying include avoidance and thought control.


Avoidance strategies include avoiding opportunities for fear of failure, worry triggers (e.g., the news) and reassurance seeking (e.g., constant checking to allay fears). Unfortunately avoidance limits the opportunity to learn that the outcome isn’t that bad, that worrying is not uncontrollable/ dangerous and that there are other ways to cope besides worrying.


Thought control strategies include suppressing worries (e.g., “stop worrying!”), distraction and positive thinking. Thought control strategies often fuel the belief that worrying is uncontrollable. To illustrate the ineffectiveness of thought control, try not to think about.. a pink beetle.


The need for certainty is a key factor that drives worry. If you can’t stand uncertainty, you probably think that worrying is a useful way to prepare yourself for the worst. If this is you, worrying probably reduces your experience of uncertainty and unpredictably and in turn, keeps you worrying. Worrying however, only gives the perception of more control. It doesn’t make anything more certain or more predictabe, nor does it change what happens.


To challenge intolerance of uncertainty, consider your responses to the following questions: (1) Can you be absolutely certain about everything in life? (2) How has needing certainty in life been helpful to you? (3) How has needing uncertainty in life been unhelpful to you? (4) When you’re uncertain, do you tend to predict something bad will happen (is something good/ neutral just as likely)? (5) What is the likelihood that your prediction will happen (if low, could you live with this small chance)? (6) Are there some uncertainties in yur life that you can live with (how do you do this)?


Letting go is the opposite of engaging with, chasing, reacting, controlling and reasoning with worry. To let go:

  1. Acknowlege the presence of worries (e.g., “here comes a worry”).
  2. Don’t respond. Observe with interest. Don’t judge. Don’t try to change it/ them. Allow them to be.
  3. Let go. Think of letting the worries pass like slow moving clouds. Release the worries and let them wash over you. Remember, worries are not facts, they are thoughts. They are not helpful. Let them go.
  4. Be present-focused. If you focus on the simple things going on around you, you cannot worry.

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Impulse Control

June 16th, 2010

This post summarises chapter 15 of Russ Harris’ “The Happiness Trap”

Urges are impulses to act and can be generated by every emotion. When you become aware of an urge, ask yourself: “If I act on this urge, will I be acting like the person I want to be? Will it help take my life in the direction I want to go?” If the urge isn’t consistent with who you want to be, don’t act on it.

To handle your urges effectively, consider the following:

  1. Acknowledge what you’re feeling: “I’m having the urge to ….”
  2. Check with your values: “Will acting on this urge help me be the person I want to be? Will it help me take my life in the direction I want?”
  3. If your values conflict with your urge, avoid the struggle. Struggling, resisting, controlling or suppressing an urge makes focusing on effective action difficult. Instead, make room for it. Give it enough time & space to expend its energy.

Urge surfing is a simple, effective technique that involves treating urges like waves and surfing them until they dissipate. Like waves, urges start off small and build before peaking and subsiding. Given room, urges, like waves subside harmlessly.

When acknowledging an urge, scan yourself from head to toe and identify the location of the associated sensation. For example, you might identify a sensation in your head or stomach. Once located, a useful distraction technique in keeping with this approach is to picture a balloon attached to it. As you attempt to make room for the urge, picture the balloon inflating as you breathe. The balloon cannot pop. It can inflate as much as it needs to.

Duck Diving (Felton, 2009)

A recent adaptation of this technique referred to as Duck Diving involves the use of imagery to cope with urges to act in unhelpful ways. It involves picturing yourself holding your breath beneath ocean waves (i.e., it is not easy). Beneath ‘waves’ you are not subjected to their force. You can avoid the struggle and observe them closely with ‘friendly scientist’ eyes.

Unlike surfing, this technique has the benefit of not being rendered ineffective by killer ‘waves’. Also, this technique does not simply involve waiting it out (which urge surfing can be seen as). Rather, it is being with the feeling/urge without judgment, noticing its qualities and, seeing how the urge is related to other internal and external events. By looking at it in this broader way, you will become more aware of how these processes work in your life and then be able to make better and wiser decisions based on knowing how things are related. This can become a very useful skill in “aware living” (Felton, 2009).

In a way, these strategies are specific examples of mindfulness – observing without reacting or judgment. With practice, these ideas can be used with problematic emotions, thoughts & reactions.

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