Worry Decluttering: Alternate To Do Lists

I love to do lists. I have read a lot of to do list suggestions and how tos online–the ones that suggest you write down everything on real paper or in an app that is on your phone and laptop simultaneously; the ones that suggest you keep track of what you’ve finished or that you write every little thing you’ve done to demonstrate to yourself what you’ve accomplished; and so on.

I have multiple lists: movies and TV shows I want to watch, people to write/email/text/message, household tasks to do, long term to do items, school or teaching lists, etc.

Recently, however, I decided to write down a list of everything that was stressing me out or I was consciously worrying about—some of these things never appear on a to do list or their presence in my life is way out weighed by a tiny phrase on a list.

I wrote down things such as: I’m worried about what my advisor will think of my work or I’m worried that my back won’t last throughout the whole day, but also smaller things that have a tendency to become obsessive thoughts.

For example, I can spend hours worrying about whether I’ll be on time if I leave at a certain time or if I should leave earlier, if I should make pasta or salad for dinner, when I should shower and work out to make sure I don’t wash my hair too many times, etc. I’ll go through the options again and again. It can wake me up at 5 am and keep me up until finally I am to too tired to keep thinking and I fall back asleep at 7 am.

Then there are the more insidious worries. These are the ones that are constantly there in the back of my mind.

They can be anything, but often they are some of the ones I’m scared of the most, not just worried and preoccupied by, but things like “maybe Academia is the only place I can find the job flexibility I need” or “maybe I’ll never be able to have a full-time job.”

I put them down to get them out of my head the same way you write down “make dentist appointment” or “email Jessica.”

I decided to put them all down in writing, just to get them out of my head as much as I could. It is just one big list that is not mean to be used like a to do list or reminder list, just a big listing of everything that worries me.

After a couple of weeks of doing this, I realized that there is a relief in admitting and numbering all your worries. You can approach them with solutions or just own them. For me, owning things like “maybe this medicine isn’t working” made it approachable.

It’s my own way of shining a light under the bed or in the closet and seeing that even if the monster is there, it isn’t as scary as I thought it was—maybe it isn’t even there.

Writing these worries and fears got them out of my head. They became finite. I didn’t have to spend too much time going over them. I could also share them with others more easily because they were suddenly one item among many.

And by sharing them, I realized some of them did have simple solutions (like use lyft for early morning appointments or make a weekly meal list) and others could be easier to deal with if I talked through them with my friends or family.

In a way, it’s like therapy—you talk about your deepest and darkest bits and get them out in the light and you realize that they’re not as big and looming anymore. You can take hold of them, wrestle with them, and when the threat is over, you can cross it off your list.

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