Week 1: Understanding chronic pain

Week 4: Healthy thinking, healthy self

Week 5: Balancing your activity patterns

Week 6: Maintaining your gains and staying well

Dealing with worry

Worrying is something we all do from time to time. However, when worry is frequent and intense, it can become a problem. Constant worry keeps the body’s stress response active and consumes a lot of energy. Worry can worsen chronic pain and vice versa. As such, it is important to learn strategies to manage worry. Below, we provide some tips for dealing with worry to get you started. 

Seek support. You may have heard of the saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved”. It basically means that our problems are easier to deal with when we tell someone about them. We believe there is some truth to this. When you are worried about something, it can help to talk to someone about it. Speaking to friends, family or a professional can help provide you with a different perspective. 

Practice relaxation. As we have already discussed, relaxation is a great way to manage stress and anxiety. Whenever you’re worrying about something, it can help to try out the relaxation techniques that you have learned. Given that worries are future focussed, mindfulness is also helpful, as it brings your attention back to the here and now. Mindfulness can help you let go of worries and focus your attention elsewhere.  

Keep a worry record. If left unmanaged, worries can build up in your mind and seem bigger than what they really are. It can help to keep a worry record by writing down your worrying thoughts. This allows you to see your worries for what they are. It can also help you separate from your worries and stop them snowballing into something bigger.   

Set ‘worry time’. This may seem counterintuitive, but setting aside half an hour a day to worry can help you put your worries aside at other times. Your ‘worry time’ can be spent contemplating the worries in your worry record. Outside of worry time, however, worries must be placed on the worry record and postponed until the next worry time. Your worry time should be free from distractions and set at the same time each day. Don’t do this too close to bedtime or it may interfere with your sleep. 

For example, Raquel’s chronic pain was worsened by her constant worrying. Raquel decided to keep a worry record on her phone. Whenever she found herself worrying about something, she would summarise it in her worry record. For example, she wrote things like “gaining weight”, “missing out on fun”, “pain will never get better”. Once she wrote these things down, she turned her focus back to whatever she was doing and reminded herself that she would have time to think about her worries later.

Raquel’s worry time was set between 5:30-6:00pm at her kitchen bench. During this time, Raquel reviewed the worries she had written down during the day. She only worried about things that were still relevant. If worries were no longer bothering her, she simply let them go. She found it helpful to write her thoughts down during worry time, rather than keeping them in her head. Raquel made sure to stop her worry time at 6pm sharp. Remaining worries were carried over into the next worry time. This freed up a lot of time for Raquel, gave her some symptom relief, and helped her to feel more in control. 

Reframe your worry as a goal. Worrying is very different to problem solving. Worry seems to increase stress and prevent positive action. Reframing your worries as a goal may help you to take steps to change or deal with your situation. To reframe your worries, 1) identify what is worrying you, 2) rephrase the worry as a goal, 3) plan to achieve the goal.

For example, Grace has been unable to work and is worrying about whether she will be able to pay her rent this month. She reframes this worry as a goal to, “pay the rent”. Her plan is to 1) phone the real estate agent and ask for a payment extension, 2) agree to a payment plan, 3) budget to meet the payment plan.   

Use problem solving skills. Problem solving skills involve making a clear plan to deal with your problems. Problem solving involves several steps, including to: 1) identify and define the problem, 2) think of all possible solutions, 3) evaluate the possible solutions, 4) decide on the best solution, 5) take action and implement your plan, and 6) review the outcome. We will talk more about problem solving in Week 6.