Worry Too Much? How My Experience with Journaling Really Helped
As he leaned against the door of a New York City subway train, my adult son fainted. Like a giant redwood tree, he toppled over, his head crashing against the edge of a hard plastic seat. Out cold, he lay on the filthy floor, blood gushing from his eye.
A couple of good citizens called an ambulance, maneuvered him off the train, and waited with him until help arrived. He didn’t fall onto the tracks – or worse – and he called to relay his tale to me as he walked home from the emergency room.
“I’m okay, don’t worry, Mom,” he said.
Because he knows that’s exactly what I do.
Why We Worry
Studies show we agonize because it helps us feel in control of a situation. If we worry about our plane going down (and I actually don’t worry about this), our ruminating will fend off an actual disaster. We worry so we can produce the outcome we desire.
Our worries show how much we care and give us something to do in a situation where we are helpless. Most scenarios we stew over never materialize.
Logically, I know all this. I’ve read plenty of articles and heard many sermons about the need to let go.
Except it is hard for me.
One morning, I sipped coffee and skimmed a story in the newspaper. According to the article, writing down our worries helps to release the matters from our mind. Getting those anxious thoughts on paper is freeing and gives us a clearer perspective on the situation.
I am fortunate I don’t have to worry about money for the mortgage or food on our table or major health problems with my family. My worries are not significant compared to others around me. But the nagging thoughts swirling in my head and heart are still mine – and they are important to me.
The Worry List
Per the article’s instructions, I folded up my precious list and tucked it away until my designated worry time. At 4:15 pm, I’d pull out my notebook and worry away for 15 minutes or so. Until then – I was not allowed to fuss about those burdens.
Could I make it through the day – worry free?
As the day went on – a meeting at church, a trip to the grocery store, yoga class – a few of my listed worries popped into my head. “Nope – not until 4:15,” I said to myself. “Then I will deal with you.”
At the appointed hour, I curled up on the couch, list in hand. OK – here’s what I’m anxious about. Let’s get down to the business of worry.
But, as I looked over my checklist on the lined piece of paper, it seemed like a problem to solve – the kind you approach with logic and a strategy. My worries seemed… manageable.
I crossed off those concerns I could do nothing about – no matter how hard I pondered them. I can’t solve the mass shooting problem in our country. My friend’s cancer has returned, and I can be supportive. Unfortunately, I can’t do one thing to improve her health.
Although heartbreaking to witness, it is impossible to reverse my mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. If my husband’s flight is late tonight and we miss the party, so be it.
I let all this go.
And then I scratched off all those matters I get wound up about which are none of my business. My son will have a girlfriend when the time is right. My husband is capable of handling his skin check appointment without my instructions.
I’ve offered my opinion – more than once – about the lump my friend found on her dog’s belly, so I am done there.
My worry list was growing shorter.
The Worries We Can Control
What remained were those final few items I could actually act upon. Stuff I can control and is my business. I will finally call the doctor about my aching knee. I can check in with the friends I miss in Houston. And, as for the few pounds I’ve gained, I’ll map out a plan to exercise more and eat less.
Nowadays, when I’m overwhelmed, I grab my notebook and scratch out a list. I whittle down what I can and can’t do anything about. And go from there.
Does this mean I am letting everything go? Heavens no. But I’m learning.
My son, the subway fainter, traveled to our home for the holidays a week after his accident. On Christmas Eve, a doctor removed the stitches and noticed his cheekbone peeking through the roof of his mouth. But not to worry. He simply needed a little surgery.
Are you a worrier? Do you worry about things you can’t control? Have you learned to let go of worry? Let’s have a conversation!