Worries keeping you up at night? Here is the secret to alleviating your worries once and for all!
The stakes are high and you’re stressing. You can’t turn away from negative thought and even when you think you’re distracted from the scenario, your mind still goes back to the what if’s. All of the things that could potentially go wrong start flooding your mind. Your mind attaches to a few particular outcomes and you run through these scenarios in painful detail as the anxiety burns in your stomach. You’ve started to make yourself sick as you keep wondering how you’ll deal with things.
So you dive down the rabbit hole as your mind quickly plays through scenarios while you simultaneously remind yourself that you shouldn’t be worried about these things. You don’t even really allow yourself to soak in the outcomes you’re painting for yourself. Instead, what overcomes you is the thick heavy fog of doubt; this feeling that you’re stuck between the impending doom in your mind and the tiny piece of you that is still “rational” enough to hold onto reality.
As a fellow worry-wart myself, these feelings are all too familiar to me. Situations have kept me up at night as I played through situations frame-by-frame. I tried to prepare myself in every way possible, to trigger the negative feelings in myself before they had a chance to surface in reality. It felt like my mind wouldn’t stop – like the worst-case-scenario was around the corner and I had only two options: to consider my outcomes and mentally prepare myself OR to turn to oblivion. And as the “planner” that I am, considering my outcomes was my natural default.
But life is full of surprises and even when you’re certain of your fate, and one of your less favorable scenarios comes to fruition, it is likely that some part of the future situation you were predicting is actually not the reality you’re living in. Why? Because in your current state, no matter how smart or forward-thinking you think you are, there is one thing your mind cannot predict: the future.
So if you can’t actually predict what is going to happen next, why do we cling onto these negative thought patterns as though they keep us safe? Most of us feel like we can’t help ourselves… but the truth is, we can.
The technique: embrace your worries.
Instead of trying to convince yourself out of your negative self-talk, you’ll be more successful in dissipating these thoughts from your purview if you lean into them instead. Allow yourself to really play out these worst-case scenarios. Go ahead. Grant yourself permission to go down the rabbit hole for a few minutes. Allow yourself the grace and curiosity to see what your mind is really mustering up.
Then take a few minutes to write down every worst-case scenario on a piece of paper. Every self-doubt. Every situation that feels too real to ignore. Everything that you’re afraid to write down — heaven forbid that writing them down might actually give these thoughts additional fuel to make them come true. Some examples are:
- “I won’t be successful.”
- “I’ll be just like my parents and my kids will grow up hating me.”
- “I won’t get that interview.”
- “I’m not talented enough to deliver that presentation and everyone in the office will make fun of me.”
- “My fiance will break up with me and I’ll never find love again.”
Then take that piece of paper and put it into an envelope. On the outside of the envelope, write “LIMITING BELIEFS”. Then circle those words and put a line through it. Seal the envelope and place it inside your closet. Your words, your worries, your greatest fears, they’re all safe inside the envelope.
Why does this help?
Well most of us have a tendency to believe that the way we get rid of negative thoughts is by forcing positivity into our minds or simply telling us “stop thinking those thoughts”. But let’s see how this plays out in the real world: you have an interview that you’re pretty sure you can do well at but your “healthy” dose of reality is telling you that you’re about to screw it up. So what do you do? “Logical You” steps in and says “okay self, stop thinking about how you’re not going to screw up that interview. You’re going to do great. You’re not going to screw up.” In the process of you trying to push a specific thought out of your mind, you have actually repeated “screw up” twice. You haven’t actually identified how you’re going to screw up. You haven’t actually allowed your mind to process what might happen if you do screw up. You’ve just given yourself a vague expectation Makes it pretty difficult for you to stop thinking about screwing up if even your “positive” voice is repeating your fears…
Also, one of the key qualities that makes a person successful and thriving is whether or not that same individual embraces his or her own authenticity. In this day and age, we doubt ourselves because we have so many options and can never be quite sure we’re making the right choice. One of the ways we can empower ourselves is by owning our decisions and owning our thoughts — we can appreciate what our brains are trying to tell us rather than finding shame or feeling the need to silence our inner voices. As much as our self-criticism and doubt can be crippling, there is a reason why these thoughts still exist: they aim to keep you safe. It’s likely that you’ve experienced rejection or hurt at some point, and when you did, your mind decided that it would self-protect against future painful experiences by trying to prepare you for all of the potentially hurtful outcomes. And you know what? That’s great that your mind did that for you — there is room for those thoughts to exist as well.
By putting your fears into an envelope, you’re recognizing the safety that these worries have provided you in the past. It’s TOTALLY OKAY that you worry – there are likely legitimate situations in the past that have caused you to believe worry would be necessary. Instead of telling yourself that you SHOULDN’T think something, allow yourself to be human and allow your brain to go where it does. And rather than locking these concerns in your mind to tornado all positivity in its path, unleash these thoughts onto paper and then seal them up.
Put your worries away.
After you’ve gone through the exercise of putting your worries into a sealed envelope, write today’s date on the outside of the envelope. This will help memorialize your worries; to serve as a reminder of what you worried about at a particular time. You can then place the envelope into a safe place — in your closet, under your bed, in a notebook or memory book, in a box of memorabilia. You have now given your worries a place to live that is outside of your own mind. You have empowered your worries to take on an identity that exists apart from you, freeing up your mental real estate for other thoughts to take shape.