Spring is (finally) here. Clouds are clearing up, and so are our homes. You might be getting ready for a big house clean. Why wouldn’t you spring clean your mind, too?
Let’s get rid of all the worries that clutter our brains, and dust away the negativity. If it doesn’t spark joy or growth, let that thought go.
Follow the guide to clear your mind of worries and cultivate serenity. Marie Kondo had better watch out.
What is worrying?
When we worry we tend to make negative predictions about the future. Think of it as “what if” thinking from “what if I miss the bus?” to “what if my partner leaves me?” Worries could be about exams, money, a job interview…
Worrying might make us feel anxious but worry itself is not an emotion; it’s actually a behavior. That means that it’s something that we choose to do and that we can control.
We certainly can’t stop negative or fearful thoughts from popping into our minds. In fact, trying to stop them can actually make us think about them even more. But what we can control is how we respond to them. That certainly isn’t always easy, but with practice, it’s something we can learn to do.
When worrying becomes a problem
Everyone worries at some point in their lives. It’s a natural part of human behavior and is usually short-lived.
However, sometimes worry can get out of control and start to take over our lives. We can be left feeling constantly on edge, tired, and tense, and have problems with sleep and concentration. Not good news.
Worrying about things can also cause us to start avoiding things and we might start to miss out on the stuff that makes life fun or important things we really should be dealing with. This can lead to more worry, and eventually, leave us feeling pretty bad about ourselves.
How to declutter your mind from worries
Worries are like dust bunnies: they tend to accumulate and get bigger with time. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to Marie Kondo your mind this spring.
Identify your worries
Keep a worry diary to document what you are worrying about over a week. Set specific times of day to check in with your worries, like 10 am, 3 pm, and 8 pm. Or, you could use your anxiety levels as an alert system and write down your thoughts as soon as they come. The important part is to record your worries at least three times a day.
Write down the day and time, describe the situation you’re in, and what your worry is. For example:
Time: Monday 10 am
Situation: My car made a funny noise
Worry: What if I’m late for work and my boss is mad at me?
Categorize your worries
You’ve now found the thoughts that “don’t spark joy”. In fact, they make you feel downright strung out. What’s next? Let’s put them in nicely labeled boxes. There are generally two types of worries:
Hypothetical worries: These are the “what if” thoughts about something that might happen in the future. They can’t be solved as they haven’t happened yet, and it’s often unlikely that they will.
Tangible problems: These are related to practical problems that you can do something about.
Here are a few examples of worries and how to categorize them:
“What if I fail my exam and get kicked off my course?” is a hypothetical worry because it has not, and might never, happen.
“I haven’t paid my rent this month” is a tangible problem. It’s an issue that exists in real life and there is probably something you can do about it.
Take control of your worrying
Decluttering your home isn’t just about throwing things away. It’s about reorganizing everything so that you get more space for what you love.
Decluttering your mind works the same way. One way of managing your hypothetical "what if…" worries is to try "worry time’, where you restrict worry to a specific time and place. That way you get more space to be your most relaxed self.
So, how does "worry time" work? Write your hypothetical worries down throughout the day and schedule a specific time to worry for about 10 minutes, ideally toward the end of the day but not right before bed. Worry time sets limits on your hypothetical worries and it can stop them from taking over your entire day.
When worry time is over, try to distract yourself with something nice, like putting some music on or cooking something you like.
Fix it when you can
Don’t let your worries take over. "Worry time" and distraction will help you let go of hypothetical worries, but tangible problems can only get fixed if you work on a solution.
Sometimes, the uncertainty of the next steps is what overwhelms us in front of a problem. Problem-solving is a process of thinking through our problems and finding solutions by breaking things down into small manageable steps.
Here’s how you can approach a tangible worry:
Write down all the potential solutions, and try not to dismiss anything at this stage
Weight the pros and cons of each solution
Pick the best solution or combination of solutions
List each action required and tackle them step by step
Quite often there is no such thing as the “right” or “perfect” solution. We can never know for sure how a situation will play out and there are no guarantees in life. Try to choose the best solution that is available to you, and take some action as soon as you can, so you don’t find yourself putting things off again.
Air out your worries
Talking to someone you trust about the situation can help you see it with a fresh perspective. Sharing your experience and worries with a friend or a supportive community like TalkLife can help tremendously.
It’s a way to exorcize negative thoughts, realize you’re not alone, and find solutions together. Don’t let your worries eat your up when you could simply let them go!
Don’t confuse junk and gold
You might think that your worries actually help you, and that’s why it’s so hard to let them go. Challenging these positive beliefs about worry is essential to letting worries go and changing your worry behavior.
Here are some common beliefs and how to challenge them:
Worry motivates me to succeed (if I hadn’t worried, I wouldn’t have worked as hard/done my best)
Do you know anyone who succeeds without worrying? Are you always more motivated when you worry? Or are you confusing motivation with fear of failure?
Worry helps me to solve problems (if I worry about problems, I’m more likely to find a solution)
Are you confusing “thinking” about a problem and “doing” something about it? Did worrying ever stop you from solving a problem?
Worry stops anything bad from happening (if I worry about my family being in a car accident, it’s less likely to happen)
Do bad things ever happen that you have not worried about? Would worrying have helped?
Worry shows that I care (if I worry about my family, it shows that I love them)
Are there other ways to show that you care? Can you think of a caring person who isn't a worrier?
Ready to declutter your mind? If you want to start anew this spring, why not join the TalkLife community?