Stress and anxiety never fully disappear from your life; they only move from target to target. But dealing with your next worry can be easier if you reflect on your past worries. Reviewing old worries gives you perspective, shows you what matters in the long run, and reminds you of challenges overcome or simply avoided.
It’s hard to recall states of mind through memory alone, so you need a simple way to keep track of your worries. Cool Tools editor Claudia Dawson has the perfect app: Your Notes app. She writes in the Recomendo newsletter:
I started a “stress note” in my Notes app where I keep a list of whatever I’m anxious about. Anytime I add something new I reread my past worries and if they no longer matter (which is usually the case), instead of deleting them I apply the strikethrough style. There is something very calming and self-affirming in doing this, and as the list grows I actually find it very beautiful to look at. — CD
A paper notebook works just as well. Or you can format your worries like a to-do list, and check them off; most to-do apps archive finished tasks instead of deleting them.
When out and about, I used to put all my ideas into a pocket notebook. Then I switched to emailing myself from my phone. Then I tried the Notes app. Now I put them in Wunderlist, a to-do app. It's not my favourite to-do app — Microsoft even released another app to replace it — because I use my favourite to-do app for my actual to-dos. No, this is my sidecar and it's a much better way to jot down random notes than using a text app.
This is an upgrade to the old idea of writing down your worries, then throwing them away or burning them. Some anxieties are so obviously unnecessary that you can symbolically discard them like that. But many are harder to get rid of, so it’s better to keep tabs on them, and remember them even after they’ve faded.
The worry diary is less of a symbolic promise to yourself, and more of a long-running accountability tool.
If you already have old diaries or journals, you can even interpret those as worry diaries. Sometimes I dig up my old high school journal, and I cringe at my self-consciousness and the stupid things I cared about. But if I look at it as “thought patterns I grew out of”, I can be proud of the distance between that past version of me, and the present me.
Worries don’t only disappear because you solved them. Some go away on their own; some come true. Sometimes you learn that you should have been more stressed about something. Recognising any of these things is helpful in confronting your current anxieties. But all of us have some worries that we eventually move beyond, and those are satisfying to strike out, and to later look back on.