I read an article today called 15 Ways to Stop Worrying and Sleep Better. Before we get to that, though, isn’t it funny that self-help articles always claim that there are a “pretty” number of steps/tasks to do in order to accomplish something? I always wonder how many items on these lists are padding to bring it up to an even number. Or, God forbid, what crucially important thing was cut out to get it down to a good count?

Anyway, the most useful and interesting thing I pulled from this article was #4 – Put worry on a schedule. The idea is not to try to stop worrying, but to set aside some time regularly to deal with your anxieties so that they don’t interfere with your sleepy time.

“In today’s busy world, we don’t have time to do normal worrying until the lights go out,” says Dr. Mary Susan Esther, director of the Sleep Center at South Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Yet everyone needs a worry time,” she adds. The trick is to schedule it on a regular basis, early in the evening—any time before 8:00 p.m. 

The article goes on to suggest quickly jotting down each worry you have on a separate index card brainstorm-style. Then, go back through the cards and think about each problem. Is there anything you can do about this situation? If the answer is no, rip up the card and throw it away. If it’s yes, write down some possible actions you can take, put the card in a “worry box” and then give it some more thought the next day and decide what you’re going to do.

I like this approach. As someone who does what I feel is probably more than my fair share of worrying/obsessing/panicking, and often about things I have no business worrying about, I think it would be unnatural NOT to worry. Instead, this exercise would focus on getting things down on paper (already reducing their scariness by making them tangible) and then clearly thinking about them. If I can’t possibly do anything to change the situation or issue, I should just rip up the card and maybe hope for some of that serenity thing people talk about.

I would go a step further on the action side, though. Goal-setting experts always stress the importance of forward motion, or inertia, when accomplishing tasks. So if there’s something that can be done about a worry, I would say that your best bet isn’t to write those things down and then set it aside. Take a few minutes to estimate how long such a solution would take and write down the various tasks involved. Then, schedule something you can do the next day or at the very least this week. That way, you don’t have to start a whole new “worry box” for all the worrying you’ll do about the stuff you’re not doing about your original worries. Or maybe that would just be me…

Coming soon to simplysonya, “10 Things You Can Do at the First Sign of a Zombie Apocalypse”.