How to Write Out Your Worry

Close up of woman hands writing in notepad placed on office desktop with various stationery items, coffee cup and other stuff. Paperwork concept
© peshkova –

I used to think that when I was worrying, I was helping to resolve whatever I was worried about. But in reality, worrying only seems like we’re doing something; we actually just get stuck in this over-thinking mode and never move into action.

In the meantime, whatever we’re worrying over either happens or doesn’t happen, or something entirely different takes place, and we’ve spent so much energy and time worrying that we missed out on what’s actually happening in our lives.

Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree – thoughts, worries and concerns about the future. “Stay in the moment” sounds like an easy alternative, but how realistic is that when you have something big on your mind?

Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m worrying until I tune in and notice my thoughts coming back to the same topic. For example, I recently had a trip booked with a very short layover between connecting flights. My mind kept circling back to my concern that I wouldn’t make the second flight because I’d have to run from one end of the airport to the other. Once I realized this was causing me stress, I could switch into more productive thoughts, like how to pack lighter, wear more comfortable shoes, or even call to see if I could change my flight times.

Most of the worries we hear from our clients are about food: How will I stick to my food plan if I go out with friends for dinner? How will I be able to eat in front of people? How can I avoid my binge triggers at a party? What if I’m so self-conscious about my body that I can’t show confidence in my job interview?

Worrying keeps us stuck and not able to do anything to help ourselves. So how can we get out of worry and make more focused decisions about how to move forward?

Writing about worries puts them in their place

What works best for me is making lists. In a paper planner, I make three columns:

  1. Places I need to go (e.g., return library book, shop for groceries)
  2. Things I need to do (e.g., create workshop curriculum, gather tax information)
  3. People I need to call (e.g., change dental appointment, call colleague)

This puts things in perspective so they are clear. I can then check things off, see what I’ve accomplished, and change or add things as needed. They’re out of my head, but still at my fingertips.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can even wake up with a worried thought, if something pops into my head during the night. That’s why I keep a journal and post-it notepad by my bed. If I do wake up, I can jot down the details to add to the next day’s list.

You can also be proactive and do some writing before you go to sleep. This is one way to apply the 10th step of 12-step recovery – “taking a daily inventory.” The idea is to examine your day and make a note of anything that came up in your relationships that you might need to clean up with an apology or by handling differently the next time.

Writing about what’s on my mind before I go to sleep helps me sleep better, because I’m not trying to work out the day’s details all night in my mind. Instead of feeling like my brain has run a marathon all night, I wake up feeling rested and refreshed.

You can write out your worries in professional settings as well. As focused as therapists are when present with clients, other thoughts are bound to pop into our thoughts. Instead of fighting them or losing concentration, we can simply jot down a word or two on a notepad, let the thought go, and stay fully focused in sessions.

We use this technique in workshops as well, to manage the time and keep discussions centered around the topic at hand. If other questions come up, we jot them down on a whiteboard as a sort of parking lot we can come back to later.

The key is to not let worries turn into obsession, which is uncomfortable at best and counterproductive at worst, and can lead to serious problems with anxiety. By clearing your mind of cluttered thoughts and repetitive scenarios, you’re making room for creative thinking and clarity.

You can get thoughts out of your head in other ways as well. You can create your own soothing rituals, such as carrying a special stone, ring or another item that comforts you and reminds you of your strength and perseverance. Some people look for spiritual solace, others turn to therapy, and many seek both.

There are many forms of therapy that use creativity and movement, such as SoulCollage® and yoga therapy. Ask for support and keep trying until you find something that keeps worried thoughts from taking over your life.


This post originally appeared on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog