How to Hack the Worrier?

In these pandemic times, how can one not fall down the rabbit hole of worry?  There has never been more fertile ground for the worrier.  So much right now is uncontrollable, unpredictable, and uncertain.  This led me to think about techniques we can use when worry starts to gain its grip on us.  With the help of Byron Katie (author of “The Work”) and a couple of clients, I have put together a list of questions you can use whenever you start to slide down that slippery slope so that you can gain a greater sense of calm and empowerment.   You can print off this list, star the questions you like the best, and use them to hack into worry whenever it starts to get the best of you.

However, it is important to know that the first step when you find yourself in high anxiety is to use some method of bringing down that fear a notch or two.  Otherwise, the limbic system takes over and you cannot properly activate the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain that allows you to problem solve and think clearly.  Excellent calming methods are doing a few minutes of box breathing, listening to some relaxing music, looking at photographs that make you feel peaceful and happy, jumping on the treadmill for a bit, destressing with some tapping (a recently discovered technique of tapping acupressure points on the face, head and wrists), and/or requesting that your partner rub your back or give you a long, slow hug.   Then try on some of these questions:

  1. Is what my worrier saying true?
  2. Can I absolutely know it is true?
  3. What is the evidence?
  4. Might my fear be false evidence appearing real?
  5. What is the probability of that worry coming true?
  6. If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
  7. What do I know for sure?
  8. What don’t I have control over?
  9. What do I have control over?
  10. What can I change right now to make myself feel better?
  11. How do I react when I think that thought?
  12. Who would I be without that thought?
  13. Is the thought that I am having helpful?
  14. How will worry help me / hurt me?
  15. What would I say to a friend who had that thought?

After all, the more tools we have in these times, the better we will fare!


  • Paul Smith

    This is great to read, not just for Covid times but for all of us who tend to worry… I appreciate now having this to refer to whenever needed..

    Thank you.

  • Gina

    Dr. Esses,
    Thanks for taking the time to forward the list of strategies and questions. We need supports and reminders. I recently received a photograph that indeed was so uplifting that it got me through the day. I refer to it whenever I need to do so. It is an excellent strategy. Posting the questions and referring to them periodically is another way to regain control. Thanks again,

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