Worries can tend to hook themselves onto us like sticky burrs, taking up valuable mental resources and headspace, often with the ‘snowball’ effect of gaining in size and momentum the longer we allow them to hang around in the hope that they will just ‘go away’. Human instinct often tells us to side-step facing our difficult thoughts and feelings head-on, and we can become highly adept at avoidance tactics, even developing other annoying – but distracting rituals such as OCD behaviours, retail therapy or disordered eating patterns in preference to confronting problems head-on, and eventually learning that we can find ways through them.
I often suggest in counselling that clients write their thoughts and feelings, including their worries down, as a way of capturing them in black and white. Many people report to me that the very process of taking up a pen and writing down what they are feeling causes them to slow down a little, which steadies breathing, makes thinking a bit clearer, and often opens up a bit of space for reflection – which can lead to new kinds of connections, more positive thinking, and improved mood.
Throwing your Worries Away
In ‘The Little Book of Resilience – How to bounce back from adversity and lead a fulfilling life’ (Robinson, 2015), author Matthew Johnstone advocates taking up paper and pen and spending 5 – 10 minutes a day writing down all your worries on a sheet of paper.
‘Once the list is complete’, he says, ‘take a moment to quietly read it through then take small pleasure with some ceremony in destroying what you’ve written. Screw it up, rip it up, stamp on it or pop it on the BBQ’ (he is Australian…..!) Johnstone’s theory is that this very physical act is a way of drawing a line under the fact that you have now faced and addressed what is bothering you, and will be freer to move on with your day.
Writing down our negative thoughts and feelings is not an instant solution to getting rid of them – but it does several things: it means that we are proactively taking control over something that we feel we have been at the mercy of; we are introducing a positive, new and healthier ritual into our lives, and hopefully, over time, it will show us that many of our worries are pointless, because the worst-case scenarios we are stressing about never actually come to pass. As one client told me, over time they realised that each time their fears ramped up to level 10 on the worry dial, it was over something completely different! The regular writing down of their worries actually amused them, through realising there was something new that they were catastrophising about every time.
Perhaps you could try making yourself smile by popping your list into your mouth and chewing on it – or maybe flushing it down the loo. Or fold it into a little boat and set it onto a stream – you can then literally watch your troubles float away. Alternatively – keeping a record of your worries in a journal and reading them back at a later date will hopefully allow you to create new and healthier scripts that you relay to yourself: something like: Why am I wasting so much energy worrying about things in life that never come to pass?