What we can learn from the 1934 “Worry Table”

Are you a worrier?

Natural born?

For the record, I always was too.

It’s what drove me to study law — a kind of problem-solving, which — for a worrier — is a primal instinct.

I figured I’d get myself a formal education in problem-solving, and then I’d be well equipped (and employed) to solve all the problems that could possibly arise.

And with that formal training, I wouldn’t have to worry so much….



Hindsight is 20/20 — I get it. And you probably saw it coming.

You called it, in that tragic, “It’s behind You” pantomime kind of way.

We all know it in theory at least: Life just doesn’t work like that.

It is inherently unpredictable.
It is uncertain.
It is unstable.
It is change, it is flux.

Sure. The law is a framework to rationally apply to and solve problems.

But it doesn’t help reduce worrying, because worrying is *roughly* 90% irrational.

There’s the kicker.

While worry is a normal part of life and can be a helpful function enabling us to make good decisions, it can become excessive, irrational and uncontrollable.

This is when it can tip into anxiety. And anxiety is a real motherforker.

Worry, stress, anxiety.

They’re a natural part of life — but recognising it and knowing how to wind back from them and getting on with life — are two V-E-R-Y different things.

That’s why I found the Worry Table, written in 1934 by James Gordon Gilkey, to be a helpful and refreshingly light reminder that worrying is, by and large, completely pointless.

This is the point:

Worrying isn’t really such a good use of time or energy.

And if like me, you’re worrying about that ≈92% of stuff that will never happen

I urge you to take a little break from it.

One of the best remedies for anxiety — or worrying — or going round and round those preoccupations with what happened in the past or what is going to happen in the future — is to stop.

Go do something else.

  • Get out of your environment.
  • Physically disengage from your current reality.
  • Get out of whatever state you’re absorbed in … and come back to the present moment.

Being present gives you the mental space to switch off the worry — and maybe even change your perspective.

If you can see your problem differently, maybe you’ll see a better solution.

Now that is what you call a problem-solving superpower.

As one of the great Stoic philosophers, Marcus Aurelius, says:

“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Two thousand years ago that was written.

Two T-H-O-U-S-A-N-D years ago.

And still, today, we don’t really have a good handle on stress. We torture ourselves with our worries.

Oh, what it is to be human.

As an incredibly anxious person, having a good tool kit for stress, anxiety and worry is critical.

Remembering to deploy it is also critical.

When I can remember to, I get this “escape” when I’m outside — in nature.

That’s a nod to Henry David Thoreau.

Downing my tools and getting (literally) outside is how I get space from my thoughts, my worries, my anxieties — physically and mentally.

It’s how I escape back to the present moment.

It’s a powerful tool that’s been known about since the dawn of time — but in today’s “busy” world, we often forget how badly we need it.

When I was in the Lake District a few weeks ago, it worked so well that I filmed a whole mini-video about it.

It is just so damn powerful.

The concept also cropped up in a recent interview that I did with Gin Lalli, a therapist and specialist in anxiety, stress and sleep — where we talked about how simply going for a walk can really help relax the brain, and thereby break the loop of anxiety.

It’s about bringing yourself out of fight-or-flight mode, and accessing your parasympathetic nervous system.

This calms you down, and it enables you to think differently. Dare I say logically, rationally or objectively?

In a calmer, higher state, you can make more effective choices. Get creative, get unstuck, get on with things.

Gin says it herself — nature is cheaper than therapy … ;)

So next time you can feel the pressure increasing, and the anxiety or even the panic beginning to rise — do yourself a major, major favour.

Just take a break.

It’s a real strategy, and it’s a powerful one.

Where did you land you on the worry table? What category of worries plagues you the most?

Are they the kind of worries that serve you?

Or might it just be better to down tools, and take some downtime?

As a self care strategy for everyone, not to mention a business tool and a hack for entrepreneurs, this is my number one go-to as a stress reliever, and focus finder, and source for inspiration and creativity.

I can thank the Stoics for it, and if I’m feeling generous — my Outdoor Education teachers from school too.

Thank you James Gordon Gilkey for the Worry Table, and Marie Popova for the reference.

Founder, feminist, entrepreneur, coffee + self care

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