A Simple Writing Exercise to Help You Tame Your Stress Levels
For people who tend to overthink and worry too much, finding peace, happiness, and joy can be a struggle. If your habit of worrying all the time is holding you back, perhaps this gentle exercise can provide you with some relief.
5 Simple Steps to Help You Get a Handle on Your Worries
Instead of suppressing or ignoring your worries, have you considered putting clear boundaries around when and for how long you allow yourself to worry about something? Some people have found that setting aside time each day to give negative chatter the freedom to run around for no more than 20-30 minutes can greatly reduce the impact it has on their mood.
1. Pencil it in. Pick a specific time of day where you can do this exercise on a relatively consistent basis—same time, same place. For me I always do this exercise early in the morning at 5:30 am. The house is quiet and I know that there is very little chance that I'll be interrupted. Use an egg timer or stopwatch to keep track of the time.
2. Write. With a few loose sheets of paper, a smooth flowing pen and a solid writing surface, start writing down all the scary thoughts and feelings that have been bothering you. Write about anything that comes to mind: Are you worried about money? Are you having a problem with someone at work? Is one of your personal relationships going through a rough patch? Are you concerned about your health or the health of a loved one? Write it down. If you're feeling anger, sadness, confusion, fear or helplessness, write those things down. Name them. Nothing is off-limits or off-topic.
Write as freely as you can. Make notes. Draw pictures. Write lists. Use incomplete sentences. Use swear words or bad spelling if you want. Change directions mid-stream; just go wherever your thoughts take you. This exercise isn’t about creating great works of art or showing off your literary genius. No one is going to ever read this material again, not even you.
3. Stop writing. When your 30 minutes (or whatever allotted time you've chosen) is up, stop writing. Don’t reread what you have written.
4. Tear into your worries. That's right! Rip up, shred or burn what you've written. Once your 30 minute writing period is up, there's no longer any reason to hang onto your negative thoughts. What purpose do they serve? Why would you want to file them away? When you look at your negative thoughts in this way, the pointlessness of hanging onto things that don’t serve you well becomes crystal clear.
5. Put worry in its place. During the remainder of the day, if negative thoughts start to seep back in, say to yourself, “I don’t have to worry about this issue now. I have set aside time to work on this at 4:30 p.m. (or whatever time you have chosen to do this exercise each day.) I’ll take care of it then.” In this way, you're not suppressing your negative thoughts; you're simply saying that you will not let them dictate how your day will unfold. In some cases, you may even find that by the time you're ready to write down your worries at the prescribed time, they are no longer a big deal. The problems worked themselves out without much effort on your part.
How Will You Enjoy Your Free Time?
When to Consult a Professional
The suggestions in this article are for the relief of occasional bouts of stress and worry. If your worrying thoughts and feelings of anxiety are impacting your ability to function day to day, talk to your doctor or healthcare professional. This article is not meant to diagnose or treat serious mental health issues.
By giving yourself permission to worry for a set amount of time each day—to let it all hang out—you can create safe boundaries around anxious thoughts so that they don’t disrupt the rest of your day.
When you let go of worry and anxiety, you free the mental and emotional energy that is vital to living a creative, vibrant life. Letting go of worry clears space in your mind, body and soul so that you can focus on the people (family, friends) and things (meaningful work, creative pursuits) that are most important to you. Putting worry in its proper place means that you can focus your energy on being creative, productive and fully present in the moment.
Worrying about the past or the future ruins the one (and only) thing that you can be sure even exists: the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist said,
“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”
If you have a hard time letting go of worry and anxiety, don’t beat yourself up over it. Perhaps you just need to find a way to channel your anxious thoughts to a specific time and place where they don’t interfere with your day-to-day routine.
© 2017 Sadie Holloway