Worrying about the virus (or anything else)? Try some simple 'STOP!' therapy

Apr 30, 2020 Chuck Rodgers

There are many good ideas you are probably familiar with to help you during this challenging time.

I want to give you an idea you would not be familiar with unless you had spent your life as a psychologist.

The act of worrying ( mulling, brooding, dwelling, ruminating ) is a symptom of both depression and anxiety. What is less well-known but equally true is that it is also a cause of those states .

In other words, you worry because you are distressed, and also you are distressed because you worry.

Worrying is a requirement for enduring emotional distress. You cannot experience prolonged emotional distress unless you worry.

You cannot "think" your way out of worrying, because relief would require 100 percent proof that what you are worrying about cannot possibly happen.

However, it is impossible to prove anything. Even in science, you can fail to disprove, but you cannot prove anything.

So, say you estimate your probability of not getting ill from coronavirus is 99 percent. You will still worry because you cannot absolutely prove to yourself that you are safe.

You will argue with yourself, become more enmeshed in worrying, and your mood will continue to spiral downward.

Instead of dealing with the content or topic of what we worry about, let's instead attack the the act of worrying itself.

When you notice you are worrying, yell "STOP!" inside your head as intensely and loudly as you can 10 times.


By yelling this to yourself, you are trying to enforce your will and to interrupt the act of worrying itself. You do not want to argue with what you are worrying about, you want to interrupt and stop the act of worrying .

What you will find is that you can interrupt the worry cycle, and your mood immediately begins to lighten. When you are not worrying, you feel better.

However, in a few minutes the troublesome thoughts may come drifting back . You then have to use the "STOP!" procedure again.

You might find that at first you spend a lot of your time yelling "STOP!" to yourself, but soon you get good at it, and interrupting the worry process becomes like turning off a light.

A note of caution: Unless you are alone, do not yell "STOP!" out loud, or they may come after you with the butterfly net.


Editor's note: Clinical psychologist Charles W. Rodgers, Ph.D. (retired) opened Fremont Counseling Service in 1973 and today is a member of the Fremont Counseling Service board.

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