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September 13, 2015

Nothing eats away at well-being more than worry. Sometimes we have good reason to worry; other times we don't. Either way, this weekly ritual can help every busy mom get a handle on her worries in 15 minutes flat.

Write down every single thing that's on your mind.

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Every Sunday night, I try to take 15 minutes to compose myself for the week ahead. I lock myself in a room alone with a notebook and I write WORRIES at the top of the page. Starting with worries, instead of to-dos, is key, because it allows me to take the mess of anxiety that's swirling around in my head and set it down on the page, where I can look at it objectively.

I write down every single thing that's on my mind. I don't censor myself, I don't prioritize, I don't judge myself for being obsessed about insignificant things when there are so many big things to worry about. If it's on my mind, it's fair game. For instance:

I will never catch up on email.

I'll never finish my second novel.

My teenage daughter doesn't seem to like me sometimes.

I've gained three pounds and my favorite jeans are feeling snug.

My son might not get into the college of his choice, and he'll be crushed and never recover and think his life is over and get depressed and anxious and need a therapist and medication, and he might come to rely on the medication and never be truly happy.

Imagine how you'd like things to look a week from now.

On another page in my notebook, I write HAPPINESS at the top and a date — usually a week from now. What do I want my life to look like then?

Would I like my jeans to fit? Do I want to have reduced the urgent emails in my inbox from 200 to 50? Do I want to have been more patient with my teenage daughter? Do I want to have gotten a chapter of my second novel done?

Would I like to not be worried about where my son goes to college?

Make a list of actions.

I take out a third page, and I write ACTION at the top. I am very strict with myself about writing down only concrete actions I truly believe I can take in the next seven days, and only those that are completely within my control.

For instance, I don't write Lose three pounds.

I write Post the low-carb food list on my bulletin board to remind me to reduce my carbs this week, and Limit alcohol to Friday and Saturday nights.

I don't write Get my teenage daughter to stop rolling her eyes at me.

I write Read a chapter of the teen parenting bible: Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind, by Michael J. Bradley.

I don't write Finish a chapter of my novel.

I write Block out two hours each day this week to work on second novel. Write blocked-out hours on the family calendar and consider them sacred.

I don't write Pray that my son will get into the college of his choice.

I write Make a photocopy of the New York Times article about college admissions by Frank Bruni, author of Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be.

Write son a letter telling him that no matter where he goes to college, I am immensely proud of the person he is becoming, and I know that he has a beautiful future ahead of him.

Put the letter and the article in an envelope and seal it with love and leave it on son's pillow.

File Your Worries Away

I pin the sheet with ACTION written at the top to the bulletin board in my home office. I file the other two sheets in a drawer. I don't need to worry now about how to keep us all happy: All I need to do is act.

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Jan Ellison
Jan Ellison

Jan Ellison is a mother of four and a novelist, essayist and short-story writer. Her first book, A Small Indiscretion (Random House 2015) is a literary suspense novel about a harrowing coming-of-age, a marriage under siege, and a mother who must excavate the truth of her past. It was an Oprah Editor's Pick and a San Francisco Chronicle Book Club Pick.

Jan's essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Narrative Magazine and elsewhere, and she received an O. Henry Prize for her first short story to appear in print.

Jan is a graduate of Stanford and San Francisco State University, where she spent seven years earning an MFA when her children were small. Jan had a brief career at a Silicon Valley startup, marketing risk management software to derivatives traders. The company went public, Jan became a mother, and instead of leaning in she leaned out, became a stay-at-home mom, and began to write.

Jan's experiences living and traveling abroad after college continue to fuel much of her writing. She also left Stanford for a year at nineteen to live and work on a shoe-string in Paris and London. She took notes on yellow legal pads, and years later, those notes provided the inspiration for her first novel.

Jan grew up in Los Angeles and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband of twenty years and their children. For more information please visit Jan's website, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.