Dealing With Anxiety Through Journaling

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Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the world, with 19% of adults reporting having the disorder. So, it’s no surprise that you’re probably reading this to learn about dealing with anxiety and getting some relief from anxious thoughts. What may be surprising is that the simple act of journaling can reduce anxiety. While journaling is unlikely to eliminate anxiety disorder, it’s a proven method of reducing symptoms that you can easily implement.

The Science Behind Journaling and Anxiety Relief

The practice of regularly writing down thoughts, feelings, and experiences has been extensively studied for its mental health benefits, particularly in relation to anxiety relief. Dr. James Pennebaker was one of the original scholars in this area. He discovered expressive writing, which has proven to lessen the effects of anxiety.

Pennebaker’s method is to document your thoughts and feelings about stressors or ideas that are making you anxious as if you are an outside, uninvolved observer. This type of observation, according to Pennebaker, can help you recognize and understand your feelings instead of making them personal or internalizing them.

Think about it. How many times have you given a friend advice that seems simple enough to follow, but when you need to apply the same advice to your life, it seems much more complicated? Expressive writing removes the complication of self. It’s almost like you’re writing to tell a friend how to handle a situation, only the “friend” is you.

Practical Benefits of Journaling for Anxiety 

The full benefits of journaling for anxiety depend on you and your personal journey. But we know from research that journaling can be a powerful tool for managing anxiety symptoms and it has many benefits. 

Key benefits of journaling for anxiety may include:

  • Stress Reduction. Writing about your thoughts and feelings can help you process them, reducing the intensity of stress and anxiety. 
  • Self-Reflection and Awareness. Journaling encourages you to reflect on your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. This practice can increase self-awareness, helping you recognize triggers and patterns in your anxiety, which is the first step toward managing them.
  • Problem Solving. If you were working through a math problem, you’d jot it down on a piece of paper. You can work through anxiety the same way. By putting your thoughts on paper, you may find it easier to think critically and solve problems. Journaling can help you work through anxious thoughts, identify solutions to your worries, and make plans to address them.
  • Emotional Release. Writing about your anxieties and fears can serve as an emotional release. It’s a safe, private way to express feelings you might not feel comfortable sharing with others, which can be cathartic and healing.
  • Enhances Mindfulness. Expressive writing helps you view a situation for what it is, not what you expected it to be or think it should be. This mindfulness gives you the space you need to work through current issues instead of catastrophizing.
  • Identifying Patterns. Over time, your journal can become a valuable resource for reviewing patterns and tracking progress. Recognizing patterns and seeing how far you’ve come is a key reason to regularly review journal entries. Once you identify patterns that are serving you, you can do more of those things and vice versa.
  • Improves Sleep. Journaling can actually improve sleep by giving you a place to leave your concerns before you go to bed. Offloading worries can calm your mind and improve sleep quality.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about journaling is that you can get the benefits without investing much time. Pennebaker and other experts found that journaling 15 to 20 minutes a day most days was enough to see positive outcomes.

How to Start Journaling for Anxiety Relief

So, how do you start journaling for anxiety relief? It can be as simple as grabbing a pen and piece of paper or opening an app on your phone and just writing. But journaling consistently enough to benefit from it may take a little bit more motivation, especially if you’re feeling anxious or low.

All Counseling recently hosted a webinar on Embracing Journaling with Ikia Young, LPC, MHR, MBA. You can watch the full webinar and read about it in our post, Embracing Journaling: Making Journaling a Habit

Ikia provided wonderful advice on how to establish a journaling habit, including considering all the types of journaling you can do, like small notes or lists, and putting your journal somewhere that you’re sure to see it and be triggered to perform the habit. For example, she recommended putting your journal on your pillow or in your office chair. 

Other ways to promote a journaling habit include:

  • Choose a Medium You Enjoy. You’re less likely to journal if it’s a struggle, so make it easy and fun for yourself. I love a pretty notebook and a great pen, so those are my preferred journaling tools. Others may enjoy typing their journal entries or even using an app on their phone.
  • Establish a Routine. We’re busy people, so many things won’t get done unless they’re scheduled or part of a regular routine. Finding a regular time to journal, like while you drink your morning coffee or before you go to bed at night, makes it more likely to happen.
  • Embrace Privacy. Your journal is for you, so don’t worry about spelling or grammar errors, and don’t even think about how what you’re writing may sound to other people. If you can’t guarantee privacy in your journal, consider using a password-protected app.
  • Create a Streak. Many of us are competitive by nature, which means once we start a streak of doing something, we don’t want to break it. Document the days you’ve journaled, and try not to break the streak. Before you know it, you’ll have a habit.
  • Show Yourself Grace. Missing a day or two doesn’t mean you’re bad at journaling or it won’t work for you. Remember that what you do more often than not is a habit. Just get back on track and move forward.
  • Use Prompts. You won’t always sit down to write and have something burning inside you that you want to get out on the page. That’s OK. When you aren’t sure what to journal about, prompts can help.

Journaling Prompts for Dealing With Anxiety

A journaling prompt is a question or idea that can inspire or guide your writing. Perhaps more importantly, journaling prompts can help you get unstuck on those days when you aren’t sure what to write about. Even if you don’t end up following the prompt, sometimes just reading one can spark a different idea that you want to document or explore.

Here are some journaling prompts that can help in dealing with anxiety:

  • What are three things that made me anxious today? Describe them in detail.
  • What people, places, or things tend to increase my anxiety? Why do I think this happens?
  • What have I done to try to manage my anxiety? What has worked well for me? How can I remember and do more of that?
  • What are five things that I’m grateful for today that help soothe my anxiety?
  • Write about something that’s giving you anxiety. Ask: What also could be true in this situation?
  • What will my life be like once my anxiety is under control?
  • What would I tell someone else to do in this situation that’s making me anxious?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen in this situation? How would I handle that?
  • What’s something that’s made me really anxious in the past that never happened? What did I miss out on while I was worrying?
  • What’s one thing I did today that made me feel calm or at peace? How can I do that more?
  • What patterns have I noticed when I’m anxious or ruminating?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how high is my anxiety today? Why? 
  • List the aspects of your life that cause you anxiety. Next to each, write whether it’s something within your control, something you can influence, or something outside of your control. 
  • What’s something that made me anxious, but it turned out OK? What did I learn from this experience?
  • How has anxiety impacted my life? What steps can I take to mitigate these impacts? 

Find Help Through All Counseling

Journaling can help lessen anxiety symptoms. However, remember that journaling isn’t a substitute for professional mental health services. Use All Counseling’s therapist directory to find the help you need. You can search for therapists in your area and those who specialize in treating anxiety.

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