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As part of our articles on tips for mental health, Samantha Bennett, a highly experienced Psychological Therapist at the Craigie Partnership, outlines a strategy to help cope with anxiety and worry, using her PAUSE technique.

How to cope with worrying using P.A.U.S.E.

Worrying can be distressing and overwhelming. This blog introduces you to helpful steps to cope with your worrying.

These steps use P.A.U.S.E. 

P - Pause 

A - And breathe, 

U - Understand

S - Stop blaming, 

E - Engage

When to use P.A.U.S.E.

P.A.U.S.E. is a technique you can use when you notice yourself worrying or becoming anxious. These steps encourage us to engage in positive actions to manage our worrying instead of getting caught in vicious cycles of worry and anxiety.

Pause Explained

P - Pause 

Pause any time you notice you are worrying.

A - And Breathe

Now that you have paused, breathe deeply for several breaths.  Breathe at a slow pace that feels comfortable for you.  Concentrate on your body and breathing for a few moments.

U - Understand

Understand that worrying is part of the brain’s natural response to anxiety.  Our brain is trying to protect us from the anxiety triggering situation and its potential dangers.  Our brain has a “better safe than sorry” approach to our survival.  Worrying keeps us focused on the dangers so that we stay safe.  When we only focus on threat, we are not able to see the bigger picture.  This can create more anxiety and lead us to worry even more.  Practicing the steps of P.A.U.S.E can help you to break the vicious cycle of worrying.

S - Stop Blaming

Let’s stop blaming ourselves.  When we are self-critical and blame ourselves we are less likely to see solutions and react in positive ways to anxiety-provoking situations.  You may say to yourself “stop worrying” or maybe other people have said to you, “Don’t worry about that, it’s not worth worrying about”.  These words will likely be coming from a well-meaning place but they do not help your worrying, in fact, they make it worse because we can’t just stop worrying by telling ourselves to stop worrying.  We are designed to worry when we perceive danger.  It is not our fault.  Anxiety is a natural emotion and worrying is our natural response. Instead of beating ourselves up for worrying or not being able to stop worrying, let’s practice being kind to ourselves.

E - Engage

Engage in positive actions to make things better.  Consider reducing any behaviours that are not helping you and think of increasing behaviours to help you cope through the anxiety-provoking situation.

Engaging in positive actions may include:

Acceptance of what we can’t control

Practice accepting and letting go of worrying thoughts that you have no control over.  When you notice yourself worrying, distract yourself with behaviours you have identified as helpful.  Commit your attention to whatever you are doing in the moment as fully as you can.  If your worries distract you from what you are doing go back through the P.A.U.S.E steps.  Take a few breaths to bring your awareness to your body, letting go of your anxious thoughts.  Delay your worries by telling your brain you will worry about it later in “Worry Time”.

“Worry Time”

This is an effective way to manage our worrying. Set time aside daily for about 20 minutes to allow you to work through some of your most worrying thoughts. Try to contain your worry time to once a day and for only 20 minutes. Here is an example of questions you can work through in your worry time.

Worry Time Questions Sheet

What is worrying you? What worries are going through your mind? What is the worst thing that you are worrying about? Make sure you write statements rather than questions

  ExampleI will be made redundant and be ruined financially

What are you feeling just now and how strongly out of 100%?

  Anxious 95%

What evidence proves these worries will come true? This has to be tangible evidence. Not based on your feelings about it.

  I have been furloughed when others in my team are still at work

How likely is the worst scenario to happen out of 100%? What can you do to cope if it was to happen?

  10% likely. I will cope by using the money from redundancy pay until I find another job. I can cut down my spending

What evidence proves these worries may not happen? Is there any other way of looking at this? Is there any positives you are ignoring? What would a friend say?

  More than 50% of staff have been furloughed. I’ve been told I will return to work in 3 weeks. I’ve worked for the company for 15 years and have done well in appraisals

Consider both sides of the argument. What is a more balanced way to think about your worries? What is the most likely scenario out of 100%?

  The company haven’t suggested they are making any redundancies even though they are losing money. They have furloughed staff to prevent redundancies. I have been assured I will return to work. I have to trust they are telling me the truth

Can you tolerate uncertainty in other areas of your life? What can you do to help tolerate any uncertainty in your current worries?

  I’m uncertain about my safety when I travel somewhere new. I could accept that I don’t know what will happen until I go back to work. I could trust in the information I have and in my ability to cope with problems when they happen.

What are you feeling now and how strongly out of 100%?

  Anxious 35%

You will likely still be experiencing anxiety but hopefully less strongly.  Be kind to yourself, this is not easy to manage yourself.  After your worry time, continue with your day and continue to practice acceptance of what we can and can't control. Repeat the steps of P.A.U.S.E any time you notice yourself worrying. 

Recap of P.A.U.S.E. 

P - Pause 

A - And breathe

U - Understand

S - Stop blaming 

E - Engage

Final words

Our team, at the Craigie Partnership, hope you find the P.A.U.S.E technique helpful to manage your worrying.  Please don’t struggle with your worrying alone.  Our team of Psychological Therapists and Psychologists are experienced in helping people manage their worrying.

Article written by Samantha Bennett MA, MSc, MAC, Associate Practitioner at the Craigie Partnership.

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