I’ve taught this approach to several of
my clients who have cancer, and many
have found that the conscious act of
shutting the door on one fear—for
example, anxiety about an upcoming
scan instead of worry about a son who
is about to lose his job—enables them
to put both issues aside. It is difficult
to explain why this works, but teach-
ing people to reframe and control their
worries somehow allows them to gain
power over these feelings.
Here are some steps for incorporating
this strategy and managing worry
1) Think about what is upsetting you.
If there are at least two serious concerns, choose just one to think about,
and put the other fear aside.
2) Decide how much time you want to
allocate for worry overall, and divide
the time into segments for each concern.
3) Put a time limit on each worry and
stick to it.
4) Consider scheduling worry time. If
upsetting thoughts occur to you through-
out the day, remind yourself that you
can think about them only from 5 p.m. to
6 p.m. Often, when 5 p.m. rolls around,
you will be busy doing something else.
5) Write down your worries on slips
of paper and put them into a box.
Alternatively, write your concerns
PHOTO COURTESY OF BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER
A friend recently shared a coping strategy she learned from her grandmother. When her grandmother had more than one serious worry, she intentionally chose to turn her
thoughts to one concern and exclude all the others. Though she was
free to exchange one worry for another, the rule was that she could
only fret about one thing at a time. Her grandmother even had a name
for her approach, calling it “the theory of competing antagonists.”
Choose Your Worry
Deciding when and what to worry about can help with gaining control over fear.
in a document on your computer
and put them in a designated folder.
Leave those worries in the box or
folder and go on with your day.
6) Don’t minimize your anxiety. Your
feelings are your feelings, and you’re
entitled to worry, but it’s important
that these feelings do not overtake
7) Ask a friend or family member to be
your worry buddy. Set up a time weekly
or even daily to share and listen to each
other’s concerns. In this way, you can
put off thinking about a fear until the
next conversation. When one of you
voices concerns during these scheduled
times, the other person just listens.
This allows the person who is speaking
to unload and process feelings without
being influenced by the other person.
8) Remind yourself that, unless and until
something actually happens, you don’t
necessarily have to address it just yet.
If there is some action that might ease
your fears, take that action.
Worry is a part of everyone’s life,
but cancer brings additional pressure.
Coping strategies can help ensure that
we—and not our fears—are in control.
With practice, we can learn to put
worries aside and use our energy to
make our days brighter.
HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER, a licensed
independent clinical social worker, is a breast
cancer survivor who served as the manager of
oncology social work at Beth Israel Deaconess
Medical Center in Boston.
YOUR CANCER GUIDE | HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER