How not to let your worries keep you up at night
You may be thinking to yourself – “But am I not exploring them in my head when I’m in bed? And isn’t that precisely the bad part?” Yes and no. You see, your worries and concerns are there because they are unresolved. They have either been previously ignored or explored chaotically, only to flourish into a bigger mess.
Working your way constructively through your thoughts and worries involves three things:
1. Acknowledge their presence with the mind of a curious explorer
To understand what I mean, bring to mind the detective emoji with a magnifying glass 🕵(sorry, I wasn't able to display the female version of the emoji!). Imagine that this thought or worry belongs to someone else and your role is simply to investigate it. There is no room for judgement or frustration, just pure curiosity. Give your thoughts a friendly welcome – “Hello thoughts. I’d like to get to know you better.”
2. Follow a structured list of questions
This will help you process your thoughts rather than dwell on them without an ending in sight. Psychologists refer to the dwelling process as “ruminating” – going over and over again in circles without a productive outcome. Instead try the following framework:
- What are you worried about?
- What is the worst case scenario?
- What is the more likely scenario?
- How does this worry make you feel?
- What are the thoughts behind the feeling?
- Are these thoughts helpful or harmful?
- What’s at stake here that you care deeply about?
- What is within your control? Include actions and thoughts.
- What can help you do the things within your control?
- Is there any upside in this situation – a learning, opportunity or insight?
3. Write it all down
It’s unfortunately not enough to answer those questions in your head. The thoughts in your head compound, but once on paper they get quickly exhausted. The power of writing things down has been repeatedly validated by research. In doing so, you’re able to more easily activate the rational part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) and de-activate its nemesis (the amygdala). This in turn helps you come up with a more confident and effective strategy to move forward – either by changing the situation itself or how you respond to it.
So try keeping a journal during the day to process your worries and thoughts as they arise. For any remaining unprocessed ones, that may reveal themselves at night, have a journal ready on your bed-side table. Don’t forget to use a structured list of questions, like the one above, when working your way through your thoughts.
You’re likely thinking to yourself – “Yeah right, only if I had the time to indulge in exploring my worries during the day.” I get it. But how about this? The more you get into the habit of tackling your worries constructively during the day as they arise, the fewer will be left to haunt you during the night. The better you sleep, the more energy and clarity of mind you’ll have the following day. But that’s not even the best part! In time, you’ll start noticing patterns and become aware of recurring fears and limiting beliefs. You’ll be surprised that the same ones niggle you day in and day out. You’ll start questioning them and as soon as you do, you’ll break the spell of so many worries you’ve been spending your nights dwelling on. I don’t know about you, but that seems to me like a worthwhile investment to make for a lifetime of more joy and fewer worries.