Delegate Your Worrying – Even to Nobody!

October 15, 2010  |  psychology, worry

At the University of California Davis Medical Center’s art therapy program for pediatric cancer patients, young patients with many genuine worries about their illness and treatment are introduced to “worry dolls,” little twig-like dolls dressed in traditional clothing that come in a tiny woven basket painted in bright colors. The worry dolls (sometimes called “trouble dolls”) are so tiny that half a dozen or more can sit in the palm of your hand. The children tell their worries to the little dolls before they go to sleep, then put the dolls under their pillows.The idea is that the dolls will worry for them while they sleep.

Principal Investigator Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater has found that this simple intervention helps their sleep and reduces their worry level significantly. Strangely, this method often works for adults as well, maybe because psychologically we are all children deep inside. Worry dolls are cheap, and you can even buy them from a company that donates money to help feed and shelter the poor all over the world. Log on to The Hunger Site and search for “dolls.”           

Another traditional folk approach that works surprisingly well is to create a “Worry Jar” or “Worry Box.” Write down the worries you can’t do anything about on little slips of paper and drop them in the designated jar or box before you go to sleep. That way you know they won’t be forgotten, and you may be able to feel comfortable letting go of them for a little while.

While these methods may seem silly on the surface, they are based on rituals that go back to prehistory. They are related to prayer and magic, wishful thinking, confession, and surrender—all sound psychological principles that can be effective in helping us come to terms with things that are, essentially, unacceptable to and unsolvable by us.

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