By Hilary Katz MSW, LSW

Reprinted from September 2012

Whoever said,” life is a bowl of cherries”, was not being entirely honest. While, we certainly experience all kinds of wonderful things in our lives, we also are challenged by feelings that can sometimes overshadow those positive events. Everybody deserves to own a set of tools that can be utilized when bad feelings become all consuming. Who would not want to have the ability to tackle the negative feeling in order to get back to those ripe, sweet cherries?

Welcome to The Junk Drawer, a series of blog posts dedicated to organizing our emotional bits and pieces that can clutter our minds and keep us from recognizing what feels good,

My name is Hilary Katz and I am a Licensed, School Certified Social Worker, although I also like to refer to myself as Professional Organizer of the Mind! There is indeed a way to declutter our minds and successfully challenge and resolve our daily negative feelings. The tools are simple and ultimately allow a person to keep on trucking instead of feeling stuck.

As a therapist, I have seen a number of clients, both children as well as adults, who have come to me asking for help in reducing feelings of being overwhelmed. I have had clients describe their brains as:

“…A tornado of thoughts”

“…A never ending ticker tape machine”

And my personal favorite…

“…Like my toy chest so full I can’t even pull a toy out.”

What has been most consistent with all of these clients is their desire to learn how to organize their thoughts and challenge their susceptibility to feel inundated by too many issues all at once. If a person is able to gain knowledge on how to deal with one concern or worry at a time, what develops is a real sense of empowerment and a better quality of life overall.

What I have found to be most beneficial for those who become distracted by too many stressors is to have them take a moment to step outside of themselves and see their brain as a gigantic junk drawer. This is easy to do considering most of us have at least one junk drawer at home; one filled with old take out menus, pens without caps, and yellowed torn receipts that you continue to look at every time you open the drawer and swear you will clean it out sometime soon.

The image of our brain as a junk drawer filled with worries, concerns, anger, sadness, and frustration gives us the opportunity to make our feelings tangible thus, allowing us to create a more organized brain. So how do you do this?

Step One: Draw the junk drawer (aka your brain) and jot down every feeling or issue that is contributing to the clutter.

Step Two: Pull (write) the issues out and determine what can be:

a. Tossed into the garbage (out of your control)

b. What can be attacked immediately

c. What can be “shelved”

*The role of the therapist is to guide the client in the process and teach tools along the way that can be used to discriminate what is urgent, what is uncontrollable, and what may be irrational.

Step Three: Draw a second brain (or large circle). In this brain, create shelves in order to organize some issues that may or may not be controllable or ready to be thrown out, but do not belong in the forefront of your mind. These shelves are reachable and issues can be pulled from them, explored and then put back. The most reachable shelves hold those issues that may need to be dealt with sooner than later. The importance of the shelves is for you to imagine there is a place for those feelings, an organized place.

Step Four: Using this imagery, you now can use this tool when you start to feel overwhelmed, by telling yourself, “Shelf it!” “Toss it!” or “Attack it!”

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