When Louise Stevenson founded WorryTree, an app that helps users practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, she noticed that there were not many resources available at the time that allowed you to practice it efficiently. Today Stevenson hopes that the app will help users ease some of their anxiety on a day to day basis, and wants the app to change people’s lives for the better. We sat down with Stevenson to discuss how WorryTree will revolutionize the mental health industry.
Grit Daily: You had your own adventures before WorryTree. Share those.
Louise Stevenson: I was working in financial services here in the United Kingdom and feeling stressed and anxious. I’d started to experience panic attacks when I went into the office and I vividly remember talking to my husband about it in the car. He commented that I worry a lot in general, and I remember asking him if he felt my worrying had a negative impact on our relationship. His answer was that my worries had a negative impact on every single aspect of my life and that moment flipped a switch for me. It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the amount of time I spent worrying (and had done for as long as I could remember) was actually not everyone’s experience. It made me wonder if there was another way to be.
Grit Daily: What’s behind the WorryTree name?
LS: WorryTree is named after a technique in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy known as the “worry tree technique.” It’s most often drawn out as a flow diagram which takes you through a series of steps, asking yourself what you’re worrying about right now and then helping you to work through that worry depending on whether it’s a hypothetical or practical worry. If your worry is hypothetical and you have very little control over the outcome, then this technique encourages you to mindfully refocus your attention, or distract yourself. If your worry is more practical then you can make an action plan for what you’re going to do to resolve it and when.
Grit Daily: For the uninitiated, what is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
LS: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of talking therapy that can help you manage mental health issues by changing the way we think and behave. It’s based on the fact that our thoughts, feelings and actions are all interconnected. By changing the way we think, we can change the way we feel and therefore the way we act as well which gives us new results. CBT is a popular way of managing all sorts of things from anxiety and depression to menopausal symptoms and pain management.
Grit Daily: Why put this in app form?
LS:When I was working with a therapist she encouraged me to practice the CBT techniques we were using on a daily basis. At first I was looking for scraps of paper to do my home-work on, then I found making notes on my phone quite helpful and then it occurred to me that there must be an app for doing your CBT home-work. When I looked and couldn’t find anything that worked in the way I wanted it to, I decided to have a go at developing something myself.I figured that if I was looking for something like this, I was unlikely to be the only one. The great thing about an app is that most of us are carrying our phones pretty much all of the time and so it’s handy for working on worries on the go rather than having to save them for later.
Grit Daily: What’s one conventional wisdom about anxiety that’s just plain wrong?
LS: I think for me, for a long time I labelled myself as an anxious person, a lifelong worrier. Worrying was just something I did and in my own mind it kept me safe from harm because I was dealing with all the worst case scenarios ahead of time. I think the reality is far more nuanced than that. Whilst everybody worries occasionally, that’s human nature, it is definitely possible to change the way we respond to negative thoughts and worries. The more we practice taking action against our worries and finding new more positive thoughts, the better we get at it. We can build new thinking patterns where the worries just pass through rather than take hold, which results in us feeling less anxious and stressed. I thought I was a lifelong worrier, but as it turns out, I’m not.