Branch Out from Anxiety: How to Use a Worry Tree

Anxiety and worry consume us. A worry tree can help. Distinguish between your hypothetical worries and genuine problems. Respond to "what if" scenarios effectively. Learn how applying this psychological technique is a great way to secure your mental health.

Woman managing her anxiety and controlling worrying thoughts by using a worry tree.

Anxiety is an all too familiar part of life in today's stressful world. It can take many shapes, from lingering fears about the future to overwhelming feelings of unease and restlessness. Expecting a heated argument with your partner? Struggling to contain worrying thoughts in a challenging situation? Going back and forth on a single decision? Anxiety can grip you tightly, making it difficult to find peace of mind. But fear not.

In this article, we will explore how to use the worry tree, a tool used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), to manage your uncertainties and find inner calm. Stepping back from anxious thoughts can help you see things more clearly. This allows you to confront negative ideas and handle your fears more effectively. By incorporating the worry tree into your life, you'll develop the skills to face your worries head-on and become resilient.

What is a worry tree?

A worry tree is a visual aid and practical tool that can assist you in managing your worries and anxieties in an organised manner. It's adapted from research by Gillian Butler and Tony Hope [1]. It provides a framework for identifying, analyzing, and addressing worries effectively. Visually mapping out worries gives us a clearer understanding of our concerns. We can then work towards finding solutions or coping strategies.

How does it work?

Professionals often use this tool to help treat people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) [2]. A worry tree helps them determine whether they are experiencing a genuine or a hypothetical worry. Then, they would engage in addressing the genuine worry or distracting themselves from the hypothetical worry.

Here's a great informative video by Martin Burridge explaining how to use a worry tree to deal with excessive worrying.

Hypothetical situations

"What if" scenarios infest our minds. We speculate and imagine possible outcomes that may never happen. We waste our time and energy on daydreaming, getting carried away with what could be. It's normal to consider different possibilities, but we may go overboard. That leaves us feeling worried and stressed.

It's important to recognise that these worrying thoughts only exist in our heads. We have to bring ourselves back to the present. By doing so, we can focus on more practical and meaningful things.

Using a worry tree

The worry tree is made up of simple components. Let's break them down to 3 steps. First, identify the worry. Then, decide whether it's genuine. If it's hypothetical, let it go. If there's a real problem, take action.

1. Identify the worry

The first step involves acknowledging your worry. Take a moment to reflect. Delve into the underlying causes behind your anxiety. Understand the factors that contribute to your feelings of unease or concern. Looking into why you're worried can help you understand what's causing your anxiety. Acknowledge and understand why you're worried and you'll be better able to sort them out with more focus and direction.

2. Is your worry hypothetical or genuine?

Ask yourself this question. Is what you're experiencing a real, current problem? Or is it a hypothetical worry? Distinguishing between real and hypothetical problems empowers you to prioritise efforts effectively.

3a. If it's hypothetical

Let it go. Distract yourself. There's no point in feeling anxious. Redirect your attention to other things and deal with present matters. Recognise that excessive worry about situations outside your control serves no purpose.

Concentrate on tasks that bring joy and satisfaction instead. Finding distractions might serve you well. By asking yourself to let go, you can deal with genuine worries that pose actual problems.

3b. If it's genuine

If you're facing a real, current problem, create a plan with specific details on what, who, when, where, why, and how. Decide if you'll deal with it immediately or schedule for later. An action-oriented approach allows you to resolve the problem effectively. Seek advice and support. Make an action plan.

Instead of passively suffering, actively engage in problem-solving strategies. Remain open to adapting your current approach if needed. Having a good plan and the willingness to take action are the keys to solving your problems.

Make your own worry tree

I hope you've found this helpful. I invite you to spend a few minutes to make your own worry tree with this printable template I made, which you can download and use. Print it out and write on it. You could also construct one from scratch. There are also plenty of other online resources to help you.

Template of Worry Tree made by Dominic Chong.
Brief Blink's worry tree template available for download.

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