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Coping With Worry

A Few Simple Techniques Can Help You Get a Handle on Worrying


Updated August 31, 2009

If you have OCD you probably know that you are more prone to experiencing worry than most. This worry can focus on the theme of your obsessions, the consequences of your illness or it can relate to everyday matters such as paying bills or performing well at work. Unfortunately, worrying can often consume quite a bit of energy and make it difficult to relax. Here are some tips for getting a handle on your worrying.

Step 1: Assess the Probabilities

If you are experiencing a worry, the first step is to assess how likely it is that what you are worried about is going to happen. How do you do this? It can often helpful to make a list of all of the possible outcomes, including the outcome you are worried about. You then realistically assess the probability of each happening (the total of each of the probabilities for each outcome has to add up to 100) based on facts, your prior experience and maybe even the opinion of others.

For example, an email from your boss asking you to see him at the end of the day could provoke the worry (no matter how irrational) that you are going to be fired. To combat this worry, you could make a list of the each of the possible outcomes, assign each a probability and list a reason or two why you came up with this probability. For example:

I’ll be fired
Probability of happening: 1%
Reason Why: I know I do a good job and have had good reviews every year.

I’ll be congratulated for closing the deal last week
Probability of happening: 40%
Reason Why: My boss was really happy about this but was out of town last week – he probably just wants to follow-up with me on this.

I’ll be asked to take on a new project
Probability of happening: 50%
Reason Why: My boss mentioned he would be asking me about this sometime this week.

My boss wants the name of my landscaper
Probability of happening: 9%
Reason Why: My boss mentioned he wanted redo his patio a couple of months ago after seeing the work we had done at our place – maybe he just wants to get the contact info.

Coming up with an exact number is not as important as getting an idea as to whether the odds are high or not that the outcome you are worried about will happen. In this case, after going through the list it is quite clear that the odds of being fired are really low.

Step 2: Figure out how to Cope With the Worst Case Scenario

Even if something we are worried about doesn’t have a high probability of happening, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t or won’t happen. For example, even if you know that there is a very low probability of being fired, the very small chance that you could be let go might be enough to keep you feeling stressed. In those cases, the next step is to list the ways that you could cope with the worse case scenario. Using the example above, you could make a list of all the things you could do to cope with being fired. For instance, you could:

  1. Begin networking with friends in the industry
  2. Search the internet for job opportunities
  3. Consider going back to school to get additional training
  4. Use this as an opportunity to pursue a different career path
  5. Move in with a friend temporarily until your financial situation stabilizes
  6. Take a week or two to relax before starting the job-hunt

This exercise should help you realize that there are many things that you can do to cope, and that even in the worst case scenario there is plenty you can do to improve your situation.

In summary, realizing that what you are worried about has a very low probability of happening as well as proving to yourself that you can cope with even the worse case scenario should go a long way towards neutralizing most worries.

Give it a try – you might be surprised how well this technique works.


Craske, M. Barlow, D. "Mastery of Your Anxiety and Worry Workbook, 2nd ed.," 2006 New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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