Break Out of the Worry Habit

Terry ShamesTerry Shames’ best-selling Samuel Craddock series is set in small town Texas. A Killing at Cotton Hill was a finalist for Left Coast Crime’s Best Mystery of 2013 and the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Mystery, and won the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery. The Last Death of Jack Harbin, January, 2014, was named one of the top five mysteries of 2014 by Library Journal, and one of the top ten of 2014 by MysteryPeople. Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek came out October, 2014 and the fourth, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, debuts April 7, 2015. Terry lives in Berkeley. More at

When I was a kid, I was a worrier. I drove my parents crazy. I worried about everything. I wasn’t obsessive as such, just worried. Would I get to sleep? Had I studied hard enough for my math test? Did I look okay? Was my voice okay? Did people like me? Would I make the bus on time? Finally my dad brought home a book that changed my life. The book? How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, by Andrew Carnegie, one of the pioneers of the self-help movement. I only read the first 30 pages or so, and I probably don’t even remember it right. But these are the steps that have served me to stop worrying.

1) Determine if there is anything you can do about what you are worrying about right now. If yes, then do it. I don’t care if it’s 3 AM. The problem is keeping you awake anyway, so you might as well do something about it.
2) If the answer is no, then decide when can you do something about it. Make a plan and write down what you will do and when. If you don’t write it down, you’ll worry that you’ll forget.
3) If it appears that there is nothing you can do about a problem and worrying about it is keeping you awake or keeping you from doing something else or from enjoying your life, make an appointment to worry.

That’s right. Make an appointment. I’m pretty sure this is my own addition to the formula. And here’s how you do it: First, figure out how long you want to spend worrying. Ten minutes? Thirty? An hour? Then look at your calendar and determine when you have that block of time available.

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail RidgeAt the appointed time, set an alarm for however long you decided to worry then get down to it. Worry about every aspect of the problem. Think of all the worst-case scenarios. Write them down if that helps you focus. DON’T look for solutions. The time is for worrying only. Finding solutions is for another time. Take it seriously. You’ve given yourself the gift of a block of time to indulge your worry. Use the whole time you’ve allotted, so that later you don’t think to yourself, “Well, I didn’t use the whole time, so I have leftover time.”

When the timer goes off, that’s it. If you need to schedule another time to worry some more, do it. But that’s all the time you get to worry for right now. Notice, the worry time is not productive. You don’t get to do solutions. I guarantee you’ll get impatient and try to sneak in some solution time into the worry time. Nope. Be firm with yourself. Set another time slot for brainstorming solutions to solve whatever you are worrying about.

Do you have a trick for getting yourself to stop worrying? Share it with other readers in the comments.

10 thoughts on “Break Out of the Worry Habit

  1. Yes, I keep of list of things to worry about and review it regularly to update it. It’s great when something can come off the list. I’m glad your method works for you. At least I have everything in one place and, for me, worrying about everything at once is best. I wouldn’t know what to do if there weren’t something to worry about.


  2. I love this, Terry, thanks! Particularly the writing down part – to avoid worrying about forgetting. I’m not sure if I can handle only worrying and not trying to solve a problem, but as soon as I read that I could see how it would help. So I’ll give these ideas a shot. Scheduling some worry time now … I’m just worried that I won’t schedule the right amount of time.


  3. I started out worrying as a child too. Now I either do something about it as soon as possible or start the process (i.e. sending out a middle-of-the night e-mail to start getting something resolved). Sometimes efforts to get rid of worries produce results. Looks like your worries did not stand in the way of you producing some award winning books. Good show.


    • Linda, the tips I gave really do work for me. Now the only thing I worry about is if I am having trouble with a plot, and NOTHING works except plugging away at it.


  4. Hi, Terry —

    Great suggestions on how to deal with worry. I’m a worrier from way past. But most of the things I worry about I can’t help–the world situation, etc. Having had a daughter and son-in-law who between them did four tours of duty in the Middle East didn’t help. I’m with Sunny. I read. When I’m driving I listen to recorded books. Anything to take me out of my worries. I also continually remind myself to live in the moment.



    • Grace, in your situation I don’t think formulas would work either. Reading is the best. And what I have to say to you is pass along how much I appreciate their service to all of us.


  5. My childhood nickname was Miss Worrybug. I love the idea of an appointment to worry. And writing things down so you don’t worry about forgetting. By the way, your system must work well. When we met at WPA this year, you seemed very carefree.


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