Write it down: A simple but effective technique to help reduce anxiety
Updated: Mar 13, 2020
I don’t have a magic pill for eliminating the anxiety that many of us are feeling these days, but I can share what often helps me process my thoughts when I am worried. As I say often in my books and posts, writing things down and active planning is a powerful way to work through problems. It is the first step toward taking back control over a situation.
Writing things down throws sunlight on the dark thoughts that are thrashing around in your head. I find this especially useful at night, lying awake in the dark, when the sense of doom and gloom are almost overwhelming.
Writing is calming. It occupies your mind with something other than whatever is causing your anxiety and gives your hands a break (writing beats wringing!)
Writing down your worries and deciding what actions you can take are important steps toward doing something productive about them
One good way to capture these thoughts is to brainstorm the causes of your anxiety.
Take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Write your issue (this works for any issue, but let’s call this one Coronavirus Anxiety) in the center of the page. Then, jot down all the worries and concerns that you have about it. Group similar items together. For example, you may have several concerns about your family’s health and safety – write those together in one area. Work and financial concerns may also have several different concerns associated with those – write those together as well. Planning and preparation may also be a big factor for you – be sure and write down all the details that are on your mind about that one too.
Whatever your concerns, get them down on paper. No one needs to see this, so if you are anxious about running out of toilet paper but are too embarrassed to admit it – write it down!
Keep writing until you run out of worries. Now, study your page a bit.
Are there more than you expected or less?
Where are your biggest clusters? Around family? Work? Staying healthy? Having enough supplies?
Ask yourself why each of these is causing anxiety. What is it about the concern that is most anxiety-producing? You may have to ask yourself “why” a few times. For example, running out of toilet paper. Of course, no one wants to be without toilet paper, but if it is causing you true anxiety, think about the root cause. Is it really the toilet paper, or is the anxiety caused by the dramatic photos of panicked shoppers and empty shelves at the grocery stores? Think about what would happen in reality if you did run out. For each worry, write the things you anticipate may happen as well.
Circle the top 3-5 clusters that are creating the most anxiety for you right now.
Of these main concerns, are there constructive things you can do to either address the issue or reduce your anxiety? List these actions on a separate piece of paper.
Some may be actions you can take immediately to fix the problem, and some simply may be acceptance of the current situation. For example, if a supply you want is out of stock, can you identify a workaround (e.g., plan to use tissues, paper towels, or newspaper instead of toilet paper) until it is back in stock? Can you accept the situation and look for ways to reduce your anxiety? To do this, you may need to look for the anxiety triggers. For example, exposing yourself to news stories about panic buying may be causing you more anxiety, so your action might be to limit the amount of news you take in or choose other new sources. Making a plan to conserve the things you do have on hand may be another way to reduce your anxiety.
Another example worry might be around caring for elderly family members at higher risk of getting seriously ill. This is a cause for anxiety for many and writing down the factors causing the anxiety will help you identify steps to improve situation and to relieve some of the worry. For example, for elderly family members who live far away, write down steps you can take to help them remotely. Actions might be to reach out to neighbors who can be on call to help if needed, having groceries delivered to their home or simply setting reminders to check in with them more often.
Keep going until you have a solid list of planned actions and start doing the things you can to address the causes of your anxiety. For the things you can’t do anything about right now, acknowledge and accept them and let them exist on the paper and out in the open. It will take away some of their power to worry you and give you back a sense of control.
Experiencing anxiety around events like coronavirus is normal and expected. However, if you feel your anxiety is causing you distress or interfering with your daily functioning, please talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.