Many of us are anxious about many things. Or we’re anxious about a few things. And these many or few things sometimes keep us up at night. Sometimes they wake us up. Sometimes they show up in the shower. Sometimes they follow us into the afternoon. Maybe they linger at lunch.
Our worries have a way of hanging around, no matter what we’re doing, which can be frustrating.
But there are helpful tools we can turn to. One of those incredible tools is writing. We can write about our worries. We can use our creativity to explore them, work through them, and to change them. We can connect to our imagination, and cope effectively.
Below are 12 prompts from Lisa M. Schab’s creative, empowering journal Put Your Worries Here. Schab is a clinical social worker with a private practice in the greater Chicago area. The journal is made for teens with anxiety, but I think it’s perfect for adults, too. Because it focuses on something that’s really important when facing our anxiety: play.
Though the journal has a mix of prompts (and you’ll find that below), the underlying theme is play. It’s playing with perspective, and playing with questions, and playing with new beliefs and ideas.
Anxiety can feel so heavy and dark and serious. Understandably. Yet it doesn’t have to feel so heavy and dark and serious. We can acknowledge our anxiety, we can respectfully listen to its concerns, and we can take a lighthearted approach. We can hold our worries as though they’re balloons instead of chains around our neck and shoulders.
If you’d like, use a notebook when responding to these prompts, and return to them regularly. See how your worries evolve. See if any patterns emerge. And, of course, remember that you can see a therapist at any time. (You don’t have to wait until you’re in crisis.)
- Draw images of flying birds. Write an anxious thought in each image. Let the birds (and your anxious thoughts) fly by.
- The universe is speaking calming thoughts to you. Jot down what it’s saying.
- You are babysitting an anxious child. Write a story—either fact or fiction—that calms the child and helps them fall asleep.
- Draw an outline of your brain, and put peaceful thoughts and words inside it.
- How would you help your best friend to calm down? Do this for yourself right now.
- Think about the anxious thoughts floating through your mind right now. Create two columns inside your notebook for facts and feelings. Facts: statements that can be proven true and correct, such as “I am human” and Feelings: statements that feel very true but are matters of opinion, such as “I am a terrible artist.”
- Write down the following words: sand, numbers, morning, snow, water, sleep, lake, play, spring, dark, together, evening, autumn, ocean, cool, summer, warm, light, alone, desert, winter, letters, arts, forest. Then circle which ones bring you peace. Use these words (or other words) to create word pictures or lines of a poem.
- Think about what’s overwhelming you. Draw eight different shapes, and break down whatever it is—a big project, an upcoming presentation, a disagreement with your partner, your expanding to-do list—into smaller steps, and write them inside the shapes.
- Create two columns, and jot down what belongs there: Things I Can’t Change (I accept them and let them go); Things I Can Change (I have the courage to try!).
- Write down the “should” thoughts that make you feel guilty or lead you to berate yourself. Then rewrite them in a caring, compassionate voice. I should be over this by now, I’m so sensitive (and stupid) becomes It’s OK to get upset, and to stay upset. It means I care deeply about the situation. There’s no time limit for processing feelings. And sitting with these feelings means I’m not ignoring them, and I’m honoring myself. I can go there, and eventually, I’ll feel better.
- Use lines, shapes, and textures to release your anxiety.
- It’s early morning. List the thoughts you feed your brain to make your whole day peaceful.
We tend to resent our anxiety, which means we slowly start to resent ourselves, too. But when we use play, creativity, curiosity, and compassion to explore what’s worrying us, and to work through it, the resentment and anger dissipate.
And really those are all important elements for approaching anything that bothers or overwhelms us, or essentially anything at all.