This may sound crazy at first, but I keep a Worry Journal. I do not keep such a journal so I can shop around for things to worry about, believe me! Like most people, I don’t need the help. I keep a Worry Journal so I can expose the worries that are subtly (or not so subtly) corroding the fullness of my joy. Anyone who has ever experienced sleeplessness can tell you that worries flourish at night. And during the day, the less obvious worries tend to hide in the cozy dark cracks of our subconscious minds. The only way to expose them is to name them.
Contrary to popular belief, when we name our worries, great and small, we are not creating or re-energizing them. We are not calling them out of hiding in order to make them manifest. Quite the opposite. When we name our worries outright with the clear intention of exposing them, we are also evicting them. We are taking the first step in the process of committing them and ourselves to resolution.
For example, let’s say Worry #1 for the day (and this could go on and on for years) is a Colonoscopy. Name it. Now ask the question: Why is this a worry? (Possible) Answer: Fear of the procedure, but also, of potential existing disease. In many cases, just writing this down will make the solution obvious and expeditious, nearly impossible to avoid. Next, rate the concern on a worry scale of 1-10 based on how long it’s been lurking in your subconscious (and/or conscious) mind and how realistically difficult the solution really is. Once you’ve done that, close the book. The problem and solution having both been named, the conscious and subconscious minds are now free to work in concert to resolve the issue (instead of preventing it). You will be amazed.
Open your Worry Journal once a year and review the fears and anxieties, large and small, that occupied so much of your emotional mind during the past months. Some will have been legitimate, even monumental. But the big and obvious ones are just as important to log in. The reason is that, once you have written them down, your mind is free to work on abatement strategies to minimize their impact on your life. There are always ways to reduce pain and anxiety. And once these worries have been acknowledged in a positive way, life has a way of placing the solutions directly in your path.
Here’s what I’ve learned from this practice:
Worrying is an emotional muscle that, once flexed, gains strength. It gains strength from adrenaline. Adrenaline is addictive. When we are kept up at night worrying, adrenaline is the physical culprit. Many of us are in varying states of chronic adrenal exhaustion because we either cannot see or name the worries that are eating us alive, or…we are afraid to confront them. This denial, of course, creates new culprits—new diseases, accidents, miseries. Worry will insinuate itself into almost any situation, major or minor. For instance, let’s say you have a legitimate concern about your health that keeps the worry muscle flexed and occupied day and night for months or even years. You follow this (legitimate) worry instinct through—see the right doctors, get the right blood tests, eat the right supplements and foods. Six months later, either through self-sufficiency or medical intervention, the condition lifts. No more worries, right? Wrong.
Just ask your Worry Journal.
Within days, if not hours of the miraculous disappearance of a major (or minor) worry—something new will take its place, guaranteed. If it’s not your own worry that moves into this vacuum, it will be someone else’s worry that consumes you, thus becoming your own. And chances are that the new object of Worry’s affection and attention will be far less legitimate than its precursor. In my Worry Journal, I have caught myself replacing the resolution of a major health crisis with…the fear of inclement weather during an event! Or…the hassle of picking up a houseguest at the airport during rush hour! Or…the type of plane I would be flying on during a planned trip to Chicago. Or traffic. You name it. These are not things I would have cared less about in the middle of the health crisis, but now…plenty of room at the Worry Inn!
Once you have entered your worries in the journal and evaluated their real and present danger on a scale of 1-10, there is only one thing left to do. Close the book. Do not peruse old worries in the course of entering new ones. However, once a month (pick a date) open the book and cross out the concerns from the previous month you no longer have. Jot down its specific resolution. At the end of a year, review all of the entries. I think you will be amazed, as I have been, at how many things do not happen. How much needless worrying has drained your resources, as well as how many issues were resolved shortly after writing them down. Let me know how it goes!