The beauty of writing things onto a list is that we literally get them off our mind as we print them onto paper.
Our list remembers the what while our mind simmers away working out the details of how. (As an aside: that’s why a list must be checked often so we don’t forget what’s on it!)
Of course, a list isn’t only great for recording to do tasks. It’s also a great way to deal with anxieties and issues.
Here are a few ways writing a stress list can help:
- It clarifies exactly what’s bothering us. Drawing each issue into the open and defining its edges—and continuing to brainstorm until we have acknowledged every worry—can bring relief.
- It provides a starting point for tackling, rather than ruminating on, our worries. When we know what the real issues are, we can plan the next step, even if that's just to wait.
- Our focus is transferred from vague, uncomfortable worrying to being creative about how we might resolve things.
- We experience a greater feeling of control over our lives.
- We can look back at our list over time and see for real that we can resolve issues, and that sometimes they even resolve themselves.
To start a stress list, write down in as much or as little detail as you like, anything that’s bothering you. Your list might include a difficult relationship, an upcoming speech or test, a regret from your past that is resurfacing, or a medical problem you’ve been meaning to get checked out.
Then, think about the next step you can take on each item. Don’t rush; let the answers come naturally. Once you’ve taken a step, figure out the next one until the problem is solved or improved enough that you are comfortable with it. Also think about who can help you along the way.
Sometimes it’s enough just to write something down; don’t force yourself to act if you don’t feel like it’s the right thing to do at the moment. Simply acknowledging a worry can take some of the pressure off.
The real beauty of a stress list comes over time. You will begin to see a pattern—some things stay on the list for ages, others come and go, and many drop off completely resolved—but the overall theme is seeing the reality for yourself of the wise saying, “this too shall pass”.
You will also learn that there is nearly always something bothering you, so it’s better to redirect your energy from worrying about things to learning how to better manage the worrying process itself. Easier said than done, but worth working on.
Finally, when new problems come up, you will know what to do with them, and your list will remind you that you’ve done it before and you can do it again.
All the best for dealing with whatever stress you are facing; you are not alone.