My daughter is a worrier. She worries about things she doesn't want to do. She worries about things she does want to do. She worries that if she makes the wrong decision, everything will go awry. I get it. I'm a worrier by nature, too.
A while back I got advice from a professional. She said I should instigate a Worry List and some Worry Time each day. The Worry List is just that --writing the things you're worried about down on paper. My sister writes them down and puts them in a ceramic cupcake to let the cupcake do the worrying for her. My daughter prefers a whiteboard. Many times I've walked into her playroom where the whiteboard is to find the list has been revised. It's like a window into her psyche that I really appreciate, because my biggest worry is that I won't know what she is worrying about and she'll suffer in silence.
Aren't we fun?
More interesting to me than the Worry List is the scheduled Worry Time. If my daughter tries to tell me what she's worried about outside the Worry Time, I'm supposed to redirect her to table it, kid, leave it on the field, wait until Worry Time. When I first heard this idea, I thought it was ridiculous. Not being allowed to worry whenever you want seemed cruel and unusual, and also worry-inducing. But I started trying it myself, and, well, it totally works.
After spending years planning out how every scenario could turn out in increasingly horrifying ways, I'm finding it easier to bat away my fears until it gets dark. While it's not great that they come back when it gets dark, at least I get twelve hours of respite from the never-ending treadmill of anxiety I used to have.
The other nice thing about Worry Time with kids is that you can discuss each worry and whether or not the kid can do anything about that thing she is worried about. In the case of wanting to quit ballet and not being able to until the end of the semester, she has finally figured out she can worry all she wants, but it's not changing anything. We dug in our heels hard that she finish this round before she hangs up her leotard. Over the past few months, we've gone from me stuffing her in my friend's carpool car bawling her head off to mentioning that she hates ballet on Monday and Wednesday nights at Worry Time and usually once for good measure on Tuesday and Thursday mornings while we're getting ready for school and work. In the case of being worried about the school spelling bee, there is actually something she can do about that -- she can study the words. A little bit of worry is a good thing, because it gets you off your ass. And if she doesn't tell me this stuff, I don't know she even needs to study. A fringe benefit: Her worrying alleviates my worry that she'll have a spelling bee and not be prepared and I never even knew about it in the first place.
Learning to worry at specific times is hard. Worrying makes me feel like I'm doing something about the problem, even though intellectually I understand that I'm not. My daughter and I have worked on visualizing windshield wipers to sweep problems away (works for me, not for her); taking deep breaths (works for both of us); and diverting ourselves with something else interesting, like reading a good book (works for both of us). I find it is difficult for me to read something really good and captivating and worry at the same time. I can't even worry and listen to a book on tape at the same time. (I know, I've tried.)
What my daughter and I have learned is that Worry Time is not really so much about Worry Time as it is not worrying the rest of the time. By containing the worry, you free yourself up for the rest of the day. Sometimes, I figure out a solution in that time -- or if not a solution, at least a step I can take in the right direction toward alleviating the issue causing my worry.
A good way to end Worry Time for us is to pray about what she's worried about, but also to be thankful for things that are going well. I've morphed in my personal beliefs to a place of thankfulness. I don't focus on what I've done wrong the way I did when I was growing up listening to sermons every week. Now I choose to focus on the grace. I do try really hard to be a good person, and it's impossible to be a perfect person. In some ways, organized religion and its emphasis on wrongdoing made me more anxious than I was even normally, and it's one of the reasons I now homeschool my religion for myself and my daughter. It is much easier for me to be kind to others when I am being kind to myself, too.
I've wrestled with myself so much in the past ten years to get myself to a place of gratitude and looking at what went well instead of looking at what went wrong. It's so much more fun to complain, really, it is. I have no idea why, but it's true. But complaining makes me feel like shit. My friend Sandee would always say, "The water is too wet, and the sky is too blue and the sand is too sandy." I say that to my daughter when I find myself complaining. Gratitude goes a long way toward staving off anxiety. A surprisingly long way.
I'm supposing a lot of you figured all this out before you had to tattoo the word "now" on your forearm to remind yourself that in this moment, you are fine, just FINE, stop WORRYING. I told my daughter when I got the tattoo exactly why I needed it, and I hope by telling her that and by helping her learn to contain and combat her worries, she won't need ink when she's thirty-nine. Or at least not mood-regulating ink.