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WorryTree Co-Founder, Louise Stevenson

Louise Stevenson designed the WorryTree app after being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. It’s now being recommended by the NHS (the main provider of free healthcare services in the UK, where Louise lives) as a trusted health and well-being app! 

We had the chance to chat with Louise and ask a few questions about the app, CBT, and anxiety.

As one of the co-founders of WorryTree, we’d love to know more about who you are! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Of course! I’m based in the UK where I founded a coworking space with my husband. I have a ten-year old daughter and four step children (plus two dogs!). My professional background is really marketing for charities and local government and certainly not app development!

What inspired you to take the therapy skills you learned and put them into a mobile app?

When I was attending therapy sessions my therapist would give me homework to work through a worry decision tree and problem solve my worries, which I was doing on the back of envelopes at first and then in my ’Notes’ app on my phone. I thought there was bound to be an app where I could journal about my worries and problem solve them, but when I looked for one I couldn’t find anything on the market which did exactly what I was looking for. So I decided to take matters in my own hands and have a go at designing something for myself.

WorryTree is a cognitive behavioural therapy or ‘CBT’-based anxiety tool. Can you explain what this means for people who may not be familiar with CBT?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) is a type of talking therapy based on the fact that our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and our subsequent actions are all very much interconnected. Negative thoughts and feelings can trap us in vicious cycles and so CBT helps you to step out of those cycles and build new thinking habits. The original concept of WorryTree was as a tool for people who are working with a therapist on worry and anxiety, but actually anyone can use WorryTree as a light-touch way of managing their worries.

One feature of the app involves scheduling “worry time”. What would you say to someone who is new to this concept and feels they can’t turn their worries on and off?

Worry time is interesting and it’s not a technique that works for everyone. The idea is that you designate a time every day for worry - let’s say 5:30pm - and commit to spending no more than 20-30 minutes during that time worrying. That way should a worried thought pop into your head earlier in the day, you can write it down (or note it into WorryTree) knowing that you’ll deal with it later. If you then mindfully refocus your attention preferably with movement, you can break the cycle and give it some thought later on. The critical thing with worry time is that you do commit to only worrying during that time and that you set an alarm so you don’t go over. Also, never do it just before bed.

Your app has been helping thousands of people throughout this pandemic, but we want to know how you’re taking care of yourself. What are some things you’ve been doing to get through the past few months?

It’s so important that we take care of ourselves, especially during times like these, but it can be easier to say than to do! I’ve recently been trying a daily thought download where I spend ten minutes writing everything in my head onto paper and then I’ll take a couple of those thoughts and work them through in WorryTree. The other thing I’ve been trying to do is focus on the present moment, which is something I find quite hard to do. I also find getting outdoors during the day really helps me, and as we head into the northern hemisphere winter and lockdown my daily mantra has become ’there’s no bad weather only bad clothes’ to make sure I get some fresh air!

If you could go back to when you were diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, what’s something that you would say to yourself? Or, what would you say to someone else who’s recently been diagnosed?

I think something I’ve learnt over time is to try not to label myself. At first I would say to people ‘I suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder’ and it became a bit of a label in my mind and therefore something I identified with really strongly. But over the years I’ve learnt ways to manage it and I’ve built up better habits around my thoughts. I am not anxiety-free or worry-free and I doubt I ever will be, but I don’t identify as being ‘an anxious person’ any more and I’d encourage anyone else to remember that they are a whole person with many parts, not just the anxiety diagnosis.

What do you see as being next on the horizon for WorryTree? Do you have any specific goals for the app in 2021?

I have so many plans for WorryTree! I’m working on adding a section on negative thinking specifically to help people work through negative thought patterns, as well as adding a breathing exercise to help people who are in the midst of an anxious moment and need to press pause. I get a lot of direct feedback from people who are using WorryTree on a daily basis and so I’m always adding new plans to the list based on feedback from people. I’m also working on a second app at the moment that will support Compassion Focused Therapy in a similar way that WorryTree works alongside CBT.

If people are interested in learning more about WorryTree, or downloading the app, where can they go?

The best place to visit is our website where they can find the links to the Android or Apple versions of WorryTree.

You can also follow WorryTree on Instagram for lots of inspiration and nature vibes!

Gallery photos by Louise Stevenson