Give Your Mind a Log: Tame Anxiety by Writing

Janice Lane Palko has been a writer for more than 20 years working as an editor, columnist, freelance writer, teacher, lecturer, and novelist. She is currently the executive editor for both Northern Connection and Pittsburgh Fifty-Five Plus magazines and the lead writer for the website PopularPittsburgh.com. She has had numerous articles published in publications such as The Reader’s Digest, Guideposts for Teens, Woman’s World, The Christian Science Monitor, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and St. Anthony Messenger. Her work has also been featured in the books A Cup of Comfort for Inspiration, A Cup of Comfort for Expectant Mothers, and Chicken Soup for the Single’s Soul. In addition to penning the award-winning romantic suspense Most Highly Favored Daughter, she has also written the romantic suspense, Cape Cursed; the Christmas novel, A Shepherd's Song; and the romantic comedy, St. Anne's Day. Our Lady of the Roses, a spinoff from St. Anne's Day, will be released shortly.

I am a reformed worrier. Oh, I still have those times when frightening thoughts take my mind captive, casting me into an abyss of worst-case scenarios, but those instances have lessened thanks to writing. If you are a worrier, writing may help your worried mind too.

Born with a vivid imagination, I could take a mole hill of a worry and turn it into a black diamond ski slope. Once as a I child, I thought I had a tumor in my throat when a clump of peanut butter got stuck. While getting ready for school during first grade, I threw up in my shoe over fear that I would forget the number of my school bus.

When my mother asked me, “Well, what is the number?”

I replied, “26.”

“See, you know it she said.”

“But what if I forget it?” I wailed.

I was that way for many years, always wondering: What if?

For instance, if I’d hear a report on the news—let’s say a carjacking—in my mind, I could picture myself at the mall being accosted by a masked assailant, forced into car at gunpoint, and tearfully begging the attacker to please take me but to leave my baby. At the time, I didn’t even have a baby! Just the same, the images I created in my mind made my heart pound and my palms sweat, inducing a panic attack. I did that quite often, making myself the protagonist in every drama until I learned to channel my runaway mind by writing.

What if? Those two little words are very powerful. They are a writer’s greatest tool for creating vivid stories, or they are the worrier’s starting gun for setting off a racing mind. Through many anguishing days, I’ve learned to stop tormenting myself with those words and have instead employed them as the kindling for stories where I could create catastrophic circumstances for characters—all for fun and profit!

While taking a meditation class one time, the instructor told us that in India elephants are often given a log to carry in their trunk to keep them from using that trunk to lash out when being paraded down a street. Our mind is like that elephant. If left unoccupied, it tends to wander and go out of control. However, if you give your mind the task of imagining a scene, it will take the focus from you and your worries and home in on creating a story for a character.

My suggestion for you if you are a worrier, the next time you feel your mind ramping up for an all-out anxiety attack, maybe grab a pen and paper or head to the laptop and don’t make yourself the lead character in your mental play, but instead create a scene for a fictional character.

Who knows you may hit upon the seed for a bestseller. You have nothing to lose—only your peace of mind.

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