Worry much? Yeah, me too. I am a recovering worrier. I was born with a talent to turn the smallest of tasks or mistakes into a near effort for world peace. Truly, it was remarkable. I spent so much of my life twisted up in knots of anxiety, only to feel depressed about how I was “incapable of doing anything right”. I know you want to hang out with the old me, don’t you?During my battle with postpartum depression and anxiety (see the story here, scroll) I uncovered a lot of tools to help me reach a place of freedom. One of the most powerful was the Anxiety List. I know this sounds counterintuitive- list out all your problems to feel better- but hear me out.
HOW CERTAIN ARE YOU?
Our brains love certainty. Certainties in our lives are things that we can 100% count on. For example, how wonderful does it feel to KNOW that you are loved by a spouse or parent? How assuring is it to KNOW that every Friday your paycheck will be deposited? You see, when things are certain, our brains do not have to go into protective mode, they can simply rest.
Anxiety is caused by those thoughts that have no place to land. Like a bird flying over the vast waters, they simply go and go and go until there is finally a resting place.
One way to manage and even CRUSH anxiety is to give those anxious thoughts a place to land. A solution per se. Now don’t sweat it, you’ll see how you don’t have to solve every problem to find relief.
With the Anxiety List, we take a moment each day to identify those things that are bothering us and offer our brains a landing point/solution. For example, I had a tremendous amount of anxiety over how to feed our baby. I was on medication for insomnia that piggybacked on my postpartum and it threw a real wrench into my breastfeeding plans. With the Worry List I would write down this concern each day that it was lurching and offer my solution- I was going to exclusively pump until the baby was 6 months old and then reevaluate. When the 6 months arrived I set a new goal. Another example would be a health concern that was looming. Rather than ruminating on this concern (because we know how helpful that is), I listed 1) make an appointment and 2) talk to my doctor about the concern at that appointment. Until then there was no purpose or need to worry.
1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (NLT)
Now, if you are a Christian like I am, this list has an easy first solution to every problem: Giving your cares to God. We believers may know this solution but it’s not always easy to live out. This is a physical exercise that can help us spiritually walk on in faith. While it is still helpful to consider action steps, we can package those action steps in God’s care and provision because that’s where the real help lies.
I chose to write my list each day after lunch. I find this to be the ideal time as it gave me plenty of time to worry about my concerns and plenty of time to relax from them. Now it may seem ideal to move writing our daily list to earlier in the day, thinking the less time to worry, the better, but then we are missing out on a key component- contrasting.
Life is so ironic. It takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence. -unknown
When we are able to see how truly painful it is to be in the throws of anxiety, it makes it worth the effort to alleviate it. When we see that we do in fact have a CHOICE, we can choose. If we don’t know and can not see this, it’s awfully hard to choose peace.
(Read more about our what the Bible says about food choices in this post)
Now here’s a word of advice… your so-called solutions do not have to solve anything other than your anxiety. For example, let’s say that you have a concern that you have no clue how to address, and thinking about it is not getting you any further towards your desired outcome. In this case, you may simply note that you are choosing not to think about this particular concern until tomorrow, next week, or ideally a day in the future where you can actually do something about it.
I’ll share a few examples to get you started. I have left out numero uno in each of these examples, for simplicity- 1) praying and trusting God to guide and provide (those of you who share my faith, isn’t it awesome to be a Christian?!).
THE ANXIETY LIST EXAMPLE
|Will I get into the college that I want to?||If I do not receive notification by the promised date, I will reach out to the college. Until then, I choose to not stress about it.|
|There is so much housework to do, how will I get it done?||I will set a timer for 15 minutes this afternoon to clean and ask my husband to run the vacuum when he gets home.|
|How will I pay for an unexpected car repair?||I will wisely allocate my finances as best I can (may list details) and then ask my boss if I can get in a few extra hours this week. I will set this worry aside until 3 days before my housing payment is due.|
|What will I do about a relationship problem?||I will reach out to this person and apologize for any part I may have played, share my feelings and then let go of the outcome because I have done my part.|
As you can see, a large part of this is learning what we can control and what we can’t control. Oftentimes there is absolutely NO good that our anxious thoughts will accomplish. What a waste! I have spent countless hours tied up in knots over things even my best efforts couldn’t budge a gnat’s eyelash. Choose joy. Choose peace. Decide not to let circumstances steal irreplaceable hours and minutes from you.
TAKE HOME POINTS
- If you struggle with anxiety, you are not alone. You CAN develop tools to help you live above the anxiety! Anxiety does not have to rule your life; it can be a tool to teach you new skills.
TRY THIS AT HOME
- Choose a time each day to write your Anxiety List and set an alarm on your phone or place an appointment in your calendar. You don’t need long, just 5 minutes will do.
- At your scheduled time jot down any stressors that you have experienced throughout the day (you may also do this as they come up).
- After each of your anxieties listed, note a solution or certainty. Remember that even “I’ll think about it in the morning” is acceptable.
- As these anxieties pop up during your day, assure yourself that you have already chosen a solution and there is no further need to think about it. You may want to review your list.
- If a new anxiety pops up, pull out your list and draft a new solution. You can be proactive with this. Do not let worries steal your joy!
- Continue this practice for at least 30 days and then reevaluate. I no longer use this tool at a set time. I have trained my brain to look for solutions on the fly. Booyah!
- Finally, if you need help with an anxious thought, feel free to comment below and I’d be happy to chime in with some ideas that may spur you on to your solution.
Check out this infographic for a visual reminder of these steps!