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The Simple Trick That Can Help You Navigate Anxiety

Most people go their whole lives without ever truly expressing themselves. We have stories to tell, ideas to share, dreams of the future, visions and versions of ourselves that want permission to live and breathe in the physical world, but we won’t let them. Instead, we silently coach ourselves to sit down, follow the rules, be more reasonable, tend to our responsibilities, and keep the peace.

What is the cost of holding back what is trying to be expressed through you? The most immediate cost is the way you feel in your physical body, right now. It might be a general sense of dread or boredom. A feeling like you don’t want to get out of your bed and live your life today. Sure, you’ll do it. You always do. You’re a disciplined person with a good work ethic. And you have people counting on you. You can’t let them down. But at the end of every day, and even at the beginning, you have this strange and looming sense that something is not right.

Take a minute and think about something you’d like to change in your life or in the world. Maybe there’s something relatively superficial. You want to lose ten pounds, get a small raise at work, or start flossing your teeth more regularly. Maybe it’s something a little bit loftier. A dream or vision you want to bring to life— moving into a new home, finding your dream job, starting your own company, or starting a family.

Maybe the thing you want to change is far less tangible. Perhaps it’s this nagging sense that something is “off” in your life. Maybe every morning, you wake up with a kind of low-grade anxiety and you wish you could feel more at peace with yourself. Maybe it’s the way you feel in a certain relationship. Every time you try to talk to your spouse, or go home for Christmas, or try to get back in the dating scene, you feel the same deep dread. You wish it could be different. But no matter what you do, it doesn’t ever change.

The question, of course, is, how do you get from a place of stuck to a place of bliss? What if I told you there was a simple, totally free practice anyone can use to get more of what they want. You can stop circling that same block over and over again. It doesn’t take more willpower, more discipline, or even all that much more time—most of which I know you don’t have to give. How? Through the incredibly simple practice of writing things down.

What Writing Can Help Us Do:

1. Name our experience so we can more fully understand it.
2. Give language to the future we want to create so it stops feeling vague and begins to
seem achievable.

3. Build a bridge (neural pathways) between the now we’re experiencing and the future
we’d like to create.
4. Heal and engineer our own resilience from past experience.
5. Find perspective for life’s challenges, large and small.
6. Invent brand-new solutions for age-old problems.
7. Build our confidence.
8. Increase our working memory and overall cognitive power.
9. Cultivate more gratitude and contentment.
10. Provide clarity for our decisions.
11. Increase satisfaction in our romantic partnerships.
12. Level up our immune system, help us sleep better, etc.
13. Combat and curb anxiety, stress, and depression.
14. Tune out the well-meaning and critical voices around us so we can finally understand
what we think.

Research shows that writing for as little as twenty minutes a day for four days in a row can measurably improve your mood. You might think to yourself, “Twenty minutes? That’s a lot.” So yes, twenty minutes is a lot.

But track with me here for a second. I wrote a whole book, The Power Of Writing It Down, about how to use writing to change your life beuase I’ve seen it work in my own life. What if twenty minutes spent doing something like writing down your deepest thoughts and feelings might make everything else you do easier? What if it made it simple to turn down that lunch date you didn’t want to accept in the first place—the one you’re now rushing around for, the one about which you’re feeling guilty because you don’t want to go, because you’re going against your better judgment, because you’re going to be late and this person with whom you didn’t really want to spend time is now waiting for you? What if writing made all of that easier?

What if twenty minutes of writing a day could make it easier to fall asleep at night, so you no longer lie awake for an hour, panicking about how you’re going to pay your bills this month or about whether your oldest child is going to play soccer this year and how you’re going to manage the game schedule with a new baby?

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What if writing made your life easier because it reduced your anxiety, lifted you out of those brief moments of depression, clarified your vision, boosted your confidence, improved your immune system, and even made you less likely to visit the doctor? What if it clarified what really matters to you and made you feel like you’re living your life on purpose? What if twenty minutes really turned into what felt like hours of time and copious energy added to every week?

Would it be worth it?

If you’re skeptical, or if twenty minutes still sounds like a lot to you, that’s fine. You’re not alone. You can start with five minutes. Or two. Or start with one word scribbled on a scrap of paper somewhere. A little love note to yourself, or a bottle thrown out to sea as an SOS. A last-ditch effort to call something beyond you for help.. You can start with what you have and then watch it grow into something much bigger than what you imagined under the law of increasing returns. The data shows this works, and so does my experience. Whatever amount you give, you get more in return.

You don’t have to feel like a writer to use writing as a tool. Anyone can use writing as a tool to begin experiencing more meaning and joy in life, to overcome what were previously limitations and to begin to create positive change in the world.

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