The Worry Script from AnxietyBC: Writing Your Worries Away

Health Writer

The Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia (AnxietyBCTM) has what it calls the "Worry Script." According to the organization, cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy work by slowly exposing you to triggers that cause anxiety and panic attacks. But if you are suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you frequently worry about events that haven't taken place. You therefore, can't be exposed to them in an effort to relieve your anxiety. For example, sufferers of GAD might worry about contracting a serious illness, losing their job or having their loved ones die in an accident.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th edition) (DSM-IV) states that excessive worry occurs more days than not for at least six months. That is a lot of hours spent worrying, especially about events that may or may not occur. This worry interferes with daily life. The DMS-IV lists symptoms of GAD as:

  • restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  • being easily fatigued
  • difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep)

According to Melisa Robichaud, Ph.D. from Anxiety BC, a worry script helps "expose" you to your fears. It is a way of facing your fears. Ideally, it would be used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, however, since not everyone has access to a therapist, the exercises can be completed without the aid of a therapist. This would also be done after the anxiety sufferer has worked through some initial difficulties. Dr. Robichaud says learning to deal with uncertainty is where she would start with patients, "Worriers worry about anything and everything because most everything in life is uncertain... if we can learn to be ok with some uncertainty in our lives, then problematic worry starts to fall away."

The exercise should be completed for 30 minutes each day for two to three weeks.

  • You should write about your worst-case scenario of whatever you are worrying about. For example, if you are worried you will lose your job, what will happen if this occurs.
  • Your scenario should be as detailed as possible. What will happen? What will you feel? What will you do?
  • When you reach 30 minutes stop. Continue the next day. You should continue on the same theme for several weeks. Each day you can go into more detail or go into one aspect of the theme. For example, you could focus on losing your home one day, losing your car, etc.

The Anxiety BC explains that you may begin to worry more about this situation as you are writing about it but that this is normal. You may also find yourself agitated and upset when writing. This is also normal and actually signals you are making progress because you are confronting your fears.  Dr. Melisa Robichaud explains, "sometimes people stop halfway through; for this reason, we try to emphasize that once you start writing, you want to give yourself a few weeks with this technique: it is absolutely normal to feel anxious the first week (in fact, some people say they feel worse than before starting), but that passes. It is important to ride out the difficult week in order to get the benefit of the worry script in the long run.

I often find it helpful to remind people of an important rule in managing anxiety: whatever works in the short-term to reduce anxiety, does not work in the long term (and vice versa). That is, in order to get over anxiety, sometimes you need to drive straight through it; so, even though techniques such as the worry script (or exposure in general) can cause anxiety in the short-term, it reduces anxiety in the long-term."

Finally, Dr. Robichaud indicates she has "seen a lot of success with the worry script; we often don't realize that by pushing our distressing worries out of our heads, we essentially experience a little bit of anxiety every day for years; but if we instead face our worries head on, we experience a lot of anxiety for a short period of time, and finally put those fears to rest."

For more information, visit AnxietyBC