For the past week I have been feeling incredibly restless. I seem unable to focus on much of anything, even a Youtube video or a television show. I’ve been finding it hard to even look forward to picking up a book to read because I’d rather do something more mindless. I’d rather pick at the dry skin on my right thumb until it is even. (Which is a fruitless goal because it will never be even until I stop picking at it!)
Doing mindless activities is usually my response to restlessness. My thumb becomes a minefield of hangnails when I succumb to this. Zoning out is a way for me to avoid my real feelings, like maybe my life isn’t where I want it to be. Maybe I wish I was more successful. Often times I think wow, I’m getting my MFA, a degree that will be unlikely to land me any particular job, and I’m working part-time so I should be seeking other opportunities! I should be seeking other employment! I should be volunteering! I should be writing an obscene amount of things and shoving them out into the world! I should be solving all my personal problems now while I have the time! I should be learning a new language! I SHOULD BE DOING ALL THE THINGS!
I mean, why wouldn’t I want to avoid all those thoughts? They are heavy. They’re exhausting and they make me feel like shit. They make me feel lazy and unaccomplished.
I have been trying a new strategy against these thoughts the past week, though. It’s nothing novel, I got the idea from this workbook I do from time to time called How To Be Happy (Or at Least a Little Less Sad) by Lee Crutchley. I’ve been utilizing the “Worry Window” when my thoughts start to get really big and scary and mean. For 10-20 minutes, I give myself time to just write down any worries that come to mind. When I first did it, I was like oh I can’t do that for twenty minutes! Well, I did do it for 20 whole minutes and I could have kept going, but I stopped and I told myself the worries were for the window. I could choose another time of day to do a Worry Window, but for the rest of the day I wouldn’t think about them. It was incredibly helpful to banish all the worries to the window.
The window has also had an unexpected result. As I write my worries, I find I contradict the most irrational ones, just naturally. If I write down a worry about how I don’t make enough money or what if I’m not a good wife, my mind automatically reverts it. Even though I’m writing very fast and constantly coming up with new worries, I’m still re-framing the most irrational ones in my mind. This is also great because then I can parse the wilder worries from the more pressing ones and make a plan for the worries that have more grounding in reality.
Another benefit to the Worry Window is that I am finding themes. The biggest theme that permeates my windows is MONEY! I write down a money worry about 10-15 times. A large portion of my Worry Window just looks like this: $$$. I’m also very worried if I’m a good wife or a good sister. I worry that maybe people find me annoying or that I push people away. I worry a great deal about the future. It’s useful to see these themes emerge because then I can prioritize what worries need action most and I can come up with a plan. Most of the worries that are appearing frequently are fortunately ones that I can act on. I can make a plan for saving more money, for instance. Or, I can spend more time with my husband. I can call my sisters more often.
Worrying about what others think about me is an irrational worry that keeps coming up. Maybe, uncontrollable is a better word in this instance. We all worry about this and I think it serves a purpose, but ultimately, there’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t control what others think about me and I can’t expect everyone to like me. I can, however, control what I think about myself. The more I learn to like myself, the less I'll care what others think.
Determining these worries that are out of my control will help me to figure out where to put my anxiety fighting efforts. It will help me to know what worries I can try to leave behind, and the Worry Window has provided a great opportunity to re-frame my negative thoughts. In the window, I confront my worries, rather than zone out and try to dismiss them. Hopefully, my thumb will heal as a result.