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A simple question to stop worrying in its tracks

by Gemma Hartley

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Not long ago, I found myself looking at a meme an old high school friend had posted on social media that I found to be incredibly ignorant and harmful. My blood was boiling, and I wanted to shoot off a sharp response.

After a few deep breaths, however, I decided to not confront this person; our face-to-face interactions ended over a decade ago. I wasn’t about to change her mind, and I could better use my energy to do just about anything else—angrily clean the bathrooms, vacuum the house, maybe even start into some of my own work.

Responding to her wasn’t worth my time. As persuasive as I like to think I am, her opinion is not within my control. Still, I couldn’t stop formulating carefully-crafted responses in my head, imagining how a fight might have played out, had I swung my decision another way. I was amidst a large pile of laundry as I moved through this imagined fight but also knew that negative noise in my head wasn’t doing me any favors. [Editor’s Note: time to give the Frustrated single meditation a shot.]

I folded a shirt, put it on the stack, and asked myself, “Is this conversation in my head useful?” The obvious answer was “no,” so the rest of my chores became an act of very purposeful meditation, returning to the task at hand whenever my mind started wandering toward an argument that didn’t exist.

The simple question, “Is this useful?” has become my go-to measuring stick to help curb rumination and return to the present. Whether I’m worried about the wording of an email or over-thinking the consequences of switching my kids to a new school, my thoughts become compulsive and, quite frankly, useless.

I have a tendency to overthink every possible outcome. I find myself forming elaborate arguments for conversations that haven’t taken place. I imagine horrible futures that have no grounding in real life. Often, I’ll get stuck on a loop, my mind playing out the same scenario over and over and over again.

While I’ve long been mindful of the fact that my brain can get stuck spinning, I’ve also justified it as “being prepared” by considering various outcomes. But worrying doesn’t help me (or anyone else) in any measurable way. Asking myself “is this useful?” however, helps me move towards the next logical question: “what is useful?” to help me take action rather than remain stuck in my head. 

If I can’t handle the social media of my former friend, and I’m not willing to get into online debates, I would likely be better off removing her from my feed. Out of sight and, more importantly, out of mind—exactly where things which don’t serve me belong.

Artwork by KAREN HONG

Gemma Hartley

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared on Yahoo Parenting, Ravishly, Role/Reboot, and more, in addition to being a writer for SheKnows, Romper, and YourTango. She lives in Reno with her husband, three young kids, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

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