February 1st, 2021
"Worrying doesn't take away tomorrow's problem, it takes away today's peace.
- Randy Armstrong
I never considered myself a "worrier." The kind of person who spends a significant amount of time overthinking and dwelling on every situation. I was wrong. As time goes on, I've realised that worries have been robbing me of time and energy.
It looks a little different to to the type of worrying I've seen in my life, which is how I missed it. I don't worry about whether someone likes me or not. I don't worry that we're running 30 seconds late for something. I worry in a quiet, discreet kind of way, that can easily be ignored.
I then get tired and drained, and the cause is often this background noise that follows me around in my head. The noise I didn't even realise was there.
Worries can easily be disguised as problem solving. We rarely tell ourselves "I'm overthinking or dwelling". Instead we say "I'm a logical person, I'm simply getting to the bottom of a problem". But are you really solving a problem, or are you just giving yourself permission to worry?
A study that assessed positive beliefs about worry, highlighted that worrying is often disguised as problem solving. We believe that we are just thinking through a situation, to better prepare ourselves for it. Or we want to think through solutions, to help avoid negative consequences. Which is why worrying can be a real issue for problem solvers.
If worry is blurred with problem-solving, without us realising, we're no longer dealing with problems creatively and systematically. Instead we are triggering anxiety and unrest.
Instead of letting our minds race with erratic thoughts and premature solutions, we want to sit down, break down the problem and identify solutions (preferably with a journal). We want to transform unhelpful negative thoughts into sensible, considered thoughts. I've suggested some journalling prompts below, but first we need to address what to do when worries arise.
If you focus on being present throughout the day, you are less likely to let unhelpful, destructive thoughts in. If you're working on a task, focus on the task. If you're looking after your children, be there, be present and undistracted. If a worrisome thought tries to enter uninvited, be aware of it, but don't let it invade.
We don't want to ignore anxious thoughts and worries, but there needs to be a time and a place for them. They can't interrupt us unannounced, like unwelcome visitors that drain our time and energy. Instead, we can schedule time to worry once a day.
Scheduling time to worry is a cognitive behavioural strategy, that is thought to reduce worrying. The idea is to allocate 30 minutes to worry, at the same time every day, e.g. 8 - 8.30pm. Then during the day, when a worrisome thought pops to mind, set it aside to worry about later; during your allotted worry time. When your worry time arrives, sit down and think away, but set a timer to stop at the end of the 30 mins.
How does this help?
Your thoughts won't have the power to drain you of energy throughout the day. Context switching is our enemy when we want to have infinite supplies of energy.
A limited worry time of 30 minutes is likely to reduce dwelling, and instead allow you to explore the feeling purposefully.
Worrying has no limits, you can worry forever if you let yourself. This method can keep your mind from overthinking, and from triggering unhelpful destructive thoughts, that can potentially create more problems.
It's suggested that if you try this for 2 weeks, you will see a significant reduction in anxiety levels. You may find that you're feeling better and sleeping better; because your worries haven't drained your limited supply of mental energy.
When your timeslot for worrying arrives, you are free to think about your problems. Let your thoughts take you anywhere you need to go. You can do a braindump of thoughts on a page or write about your feelings. The important part is limiting it to 30 minutes, to prevent overthinking and destructive dwelling.
I've found some exercises that I can do in my bullet journal, that help me transform destructive thoughts into helpful ones, which I've shared below.
One Issue Ten Ideas
Earl Nightingale said:
“For whatever problem you’re struggling with in your life, take out one page in a journal, and write out 10 ideas for how to overcome it.”
There are always challenges in daily life. Taking the time to reflect and brainstorm can help you work through them, before your thoughts run wild and you get overwhelmed.
All you need is a blank page, to write up the problem and your 10 ideas. You could even set up a template in your bullet journal to encourage you to use it.
The Stoics realised that there are things we control, and things we don't control. To get to the good life, we should focus on the things we control, and accept the rest as it happens.
Writing down the things in your control versus the things that are not, helps to free you of worries that are not in your control. You can then focus your energy on the things that are.
Cognitive Reframing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. This strategy helps people look at situations from a slightly different perspective.
You can use this opportunities list, as a helpful way of changing the narrative. You start to look at things through a different lens and see that problems can often be opportunities.
It may take some time to change our thinking patterns. When we do, I strongly believe that we'll be rewarded with energy, time, creativity and purpose.