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Wanna Fly, You Got to Give Up the Shit that Weights You Down *

March 9, 2010

We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies.
• Etty Hillesum (1942)

I am a particularly good worrier. I have finely honed fretting skills. I am not proud of this. If I could, I would be carefree and happy-go-lucky at all times. Unfortunately, this is much, much, much, much easier said than done. Much.

A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.
• John Lubbock

I do, however, have some strategies that alleviate some of my worrying. For example, I am a list maker. This is because one of my worries is that I will forget to do something that I am supposed to do. If I put these things onto a list, I can move them to the back burner of my mind, knowing that I will be reminded that they need to be done. This does require actually looking at my lists, but I do this regularly. Sadly, this also entails making more lists, but that task includes the always delightfully satisfying slashing through of the already-done.

Beyond things like groceries and keeping track of household needs, I wasn’t much of a list maker before I went back to school. It was the constant nagging feeling that there was something I ought to be doing that drove me to making lists and keeping a calendar of due dates complete with progress checkpoints to help me stay on track and make sure I got all my work done on time.

If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.
• E. Joseph Cossman

Another useful activity is one I often recommend as a stress management technique. I call it “Your Worries Go Here,” and here are the instructions:

Each week, record five things you’re worried about on a slip of paper. Date it and put it into an envelope. Once a month, review your collection of weekly worries. Are there patterns to your worrying? Things you can or should do? Things you can’t do anything about? Each month, determine one thing you can do to relieve some of your stress from worrying.

You can record your worries in a journal too. Be careful with this one. I used to rant in a journal until I found that rereading the rants just got me all worked up again. I much prefer to write about shiny happy things that are a joy to revisit. Of course, I still rant. What writer doesn’t vent?

Rather than calling this diary a record of my life, it’s more accurate to regard it as the sum of all my tears.
• Ding Ling (1927), “Miss Sophia’s Diary”

Distraction is another helpful ploy. Mark Twain advised worriers to “drag your thoughts away from your troubles. . .by the ears, by the heels, or by any other way you can manage it.” A walk. A movie. Exercise. A good book. Whatever. You got to give up the shit that weights you down.

What’s worrying you and what are you going to do about it?

My life has been filled with terrible misfortune, most of which never happened.
• Michel de Montaigne

* Thanks to Toni Morrison for the title quotation.

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