At the age of seven, I waved a medical encyclopedia in front of my parents and announced that I had “free-floating anxiety”.
The book was one of only a few we had in the house, and it had an entire section of flowcharts for performing diagnoses. As a child, I had great fun answering the questions: “Are you under 5 feet tall?” Yes! “Is your toenail green?” No. “Is your tongue furry?” *Checks in mirror* Hmm. Maybe?
The only flowchart that ever informed me I had a disorder was the one on free-floating anxiety, defined in the book as a general sense of worry. Whenever I mentioned it, my mum told me it wasn’t worth bothering about, which was both true and ironic.
I say all this with an awareness that severe anxiety debilitates some people. Gratefully, I’ve not struggled at that level – though I will admit to the occasional bouts of throwing up at work from nerves. (Oddly, not when I speak on stage or go on television; that’s actually when I’m at my calmest!) However, I am an A-grade worrier. I ruminate, catastrophise, over-dramatise: all the standard worrier stuff. And I don’t think I’m hugely alone. A lot of people are conscientious, and life is complicated and uncertain, so it stands to reason many of us feel anxious while living it.
HENCE, I am always on the hunt for ways to best handle my anxieties.
For a few years, I had a pencil case and whenever I started ruminating, especially if I was supposed to be focused on something else, I would write the worry on a piece of paper and then stick it in the pencil case. Each time my mind went back to worrying, I would think, “IT IS IN THE PENCIL CASE, WORRY ABOUT IT LATER”. And, somehow, that helped.
The downside of the pencil case is (a) if you lose the pencil case, then someone else might open it and read all your worries (which is exactly the sort of worrying thing that a worrier worries about), and (b) you have to carry the thing around with you all the time.
A couple of years ago, I discovered a new strategy for handling worries. And so far, it’s working out swell.
I now have an Evernote document on my phone/laptop titled ‘List of Worries’, and whenever I have a worry, I write it down in there. I sometimes batch it and do them at night. Other times, if I can hear the worries distracting me while I try to work, I write them down there and then.
How does that help? Well, once I’ve written my worry at the bottom of the list, I go back up and see what I am no longer worrying about and I use the
strike out text to cross it off. Not only do I get the therapeutic sense of realising that most worries get crossed off fairly quickly but also look how many there are! 👀
I can’t tell you how much perspective it brings to first scroll past 300 worries before you add ‘Nothing in the house for dinner with family at the weekend’. Seriously, Laura, it’s not a biggie. Stick it on the list, and this too shall pass.
The other great thing about this trick is that it’s only getting better with time. As the list gets longer, the problems feel smaller, and I feel more convinced that they will be crossed off soon.
Indeed, because I’ve been doing it for a couple of years, I sometimes look back and don’t even remember what some of the things on the list are about. At the time I was worrying so badly they were probably keeping me up at night. Now, I don’t even know what the words signify.
So, next time you find yourself lost in a whirlwind of worries, remember the pencil case and the Evernote list. And if you think this would work for you, I recommend you try it. It won’t change your world. You will still worry. But it might take enough of the edge off to keep it from being unpleasant. Let me know how you get on if you do!