Write Them Out!
Certainly, it sounds like the opposite of what you’d want to do, but if you have something you are super afraid of, one way to get rid of this endless cycle of negative thoughts is to give it your full attention. Please Note: strong emotions are possible with this exercise, and are in fact to be expected as worries get released. Get help if you are struggling to manage more days than not!
Did you know? Many people spend hours each day trying to avoid worrying about things. But, worries often don’t go away on their own.
Distraction techniques like watching Netflix, scrolling on social media or zoning out with a mindless app, even self-medicating with drinking, drugs, or over-eating are ways we try to avoid worrying, to no avail.
None of these distraction techniques actually reduce worrying. They might they might provide short-term relief, however.
Worries Avoidance Leads to More Worry
According to a psychology theory known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT), the harder we try and avoid the thoughts that make us anxious, the worse they get.
Consider, trying to push something out of your mind is a like trying to push an inflatable ball under water. It takes a lot of work to keep it down, and the minute you let it go, it pops right back up again.
Waking up in the middle of the night with a head full of thoughts and worries is more common than ever, nowadays. Sadly, COVID Insomnia is now a real condition, affecting approximately 20% of individuals according to Lin and colleagues in a June 2020 paper published by Sleep Medicine. Although common, it’s a sign that despite what you think, you aren’t actually “dealing” with your worries. Actually, you’re just pushing them away for a later time.
Similarly, when that credit card bill comes due, and you just pay the minimum. Feels better at first, but it sure comes back with a vengeance, doesn’t it?
Try Something Different for Worries and Stress
Rather than putting all of your energy into avoiding upsetting or uncomfortable thoughts and images, you can instead face your fears.
Like turning on the bedroom light to show a small child there are no monsters under the bed, shining a bright light on our fears takes away their power.
Writing a worry script is one way to help you do this, confidently.
The Benefits Await
By writing a worry script, you will:
- Face your negative thoughts and upsetting feelings head on, thus diminishing the hold these thoughts and worries have on your mind.
- Get a clearer picture of what is really upsetting you, finally.
- Reduce your overall anxiety by having your mind “play out” your worries in a hypothetical manner, perhaps for the first time, ever.
How It Works:
Think of writing out your worries as a journalling or self-care exercise. Thus, it will help stretch your worn-down mind and create a healthy new mindset regarding your worries. While you may experience strong emotions at first, they should diminish as you repeat the exercise. Please, get help from a professional if worries feel like more than you can manage alone.
In this exercise, you create a “worry script” or story about your biggest worries, in detail.
Now, let’s explore this technique in more detail.
- No distractions! First, choose a place where you won’t be interrupted. Next, turn off your phone. Give yourself about 20 minutes to create each script. Finally, take a deep breath, and…
- Write! Pick just one thing you are worrying about (for now).
- Detail the worst-case scenario for these particular worries. For example, if you are worrying about your child getting bullied in school, write about the worst events that could happen to your child and the worst ways he or she might react.
- Include how things look, sound, and feel. Don’t forget to add details of how YOU FEEL. Vivid and descriptive are the goals for writing out your worries.
- Write a new script on the same subject each day, going deeper into your feelings with each script.
- After about 1-2 weeks, or 6-8 sittings, you can move to the next set of worries. You’ll know you’re ready to move on when the worried thoughts feel less intense.
Reach Out For Help
Worries feeling like they are more than you can handle? You’re not alone. It’s OK to not be OK, but please, if you are really struggling, reach out to a professional mental health counselor or therapist for support. Don’t go it alone.
Anxiety therapists have the skills to teach you how to make coping with worries much more manageable during this extraordinarily difficult time. Expert advice, therapist referrals, and online support groups can be found at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website.
A Licensed Clinical Social Worker or other mental health professional is qualified to diagnose and treat anxiety disorders using this and other evidence-based approaches, helping you feel more like yourself again, soon!