Do you struggle with anxiety? Anxiety can cause both physical and emotional problems. It can make everyday problems more difficult, and keeping up with responsibilities overwhelming. Basic activities like work, school, relationships and social engagements become challenging. Excessive worry and fear causes some people to isolate themselves, feeling they have an innate weakness. Others become defensive and aggressive in an effort to protect themselves. Learning to cope is often challenging; but learning how journaling relieves anxiety, was life changing for me!
Everyone struggles with mild anxiety now and then, but higher levels can be debilitating. Effective ways of dealing with occasional times of fear and worry like mindfulness and deep breathing provide relief in the moment. Other ways of caring for yourself during these times are the use of essential oils, especially lavender, and going for a walk. At other times, these basic self-care tips bring little to no relief. That’s when journaling can help.
“Anxiety is having to remind myself hat being afraid of things going wrong isn’t the way to make things go right.”
Does Journaling Relieve Anxiety?
Journaling is a great way to process your feelings, organize your thoughts, and identify causes of your anxiety. For individuals who experience anxiety often, journaling is great tool that can assist with decreasing uncomfortable feelings. Even for anyone who doesn’t normally experience anxiety, but feels anxious or worried, journaling can be a gentle place to start to understand why these symptoms are showing up now.
Working in hospice and palliative medicine, we use alternative therapies to help relieve existential suffering and anxiety, such as music therapy, massage and journaling. A medical study published in the JMIR Mental Health Journal was enlightening . It found that journaling relieved many of the physical symptoms of anxiety in addition to improving the mental health of individuals who participated in the study. Several people I interacted with in our clinic expressed a feeling of relief when writing their journal entries.
What Do You Mean by Journaling?
For some people writing down their thoughts is not hard. For others they sit and stare at the page with an empty mind. That’s why there are several ways to journal; experiment to find one that works for you. If you’re like me, you may find a few that work for you and use them at different times.
For those that have never attempted journaling before it is basically the same as keeping a diary. “Back in the day” it was popular to write down things each day that you wanted to remember. It was more of a log or for some, the material of gossip! The journaling I am referencing here will help you settle your anxious, overactive mind. It is a tool that will enable you to understand triggers causing your anxiety.
How to Begin Journaling
- Find a journal or notebook that you would enjoy using. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy; I started with a steno book.
- Block out a small amount of time to start. Don’t overwhelm yourself or put too much pressure on yourself. Start small, fifteen or twenty minutes, try to make it the same time each day. I recommend taking a short time in the morning; at the start your day. Similarly, again in the evening to close out your day.
- In the morning, a simple way to begin is to write down which emotions you are feeling. If you are feeling anxious, give it a number from one to ten. Write down which thoughts are most dominate in your mind, what things today are you anxious about doing? Things you don’t want to do, things you’re afraid might happen or not happen. What are you looking forward to that day?
- In the evening, write down which emotions you are feeling. If you are feeling anxious, give it a number from one to ten. Note if your level of anxiety improved or worsened. Write down which thoughts are most dominate in your mind. Which did you find yourself thinking about the most throughout the day? What did you like and dislike about the day? Describe the day in one word, and note what caused you the most anxiety today.
This is an easy way to begin journaling. It establishes a baseline and builds information for you to determine possible triggers. It empowers you to explore your struggles in a safe environment.
“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”Kahlil Gibran
Once you are comfortable with writing a few things down each day, you can explore other methods of journaling. There can be a number of triggers causing fear and anxiety which will require different methods to help you cope. In the list below I share a few of my favorites.
Declutter Your Mind
- Two Lists- this is one of my top favorites because it gives me perspective almost immediately when overwhelm takes over. You can do this in your journal, or simply on a piece of paper. Divide the sheet of paper in half; and on one side write”My Business” on the other half write “God’s Business“. Alternatively, you could also write “Controlled by Me” and “Out of My Control“. Begin listing the things on your mind, putting them in one of the two categories. After that, take a few moments to review what exactly is “your business” or “controllable by you”. The other side of the paper is not your business and cannot be controlled by you. Each time you begin to meddle with the things on the other side of the paper, remind yourself what is your business and controllable by you.
- Journal Prompts-this is a good one for when I really feel overwhelmed or distracted. It also works well when I cannot focus on any one thing. Journal prompts are simply questions that you answer. This helps declutter your mind and allows you to release negative thoughts and emotions. Questions like, “_____makes me anxious”, “Thinking about _______ makes me fearful”, “What was most upsetting to me today?”; can make it easier to write things down.
Match Thoughts with Emotions- list each thought that is going through your mind on one side of a sheet of paper. On the other side try to determine the emotion created when you have that thought. To do this, sit quietly and ask yourself, “In one word what am I feeling?” Once you write that feeling down; trace the thought pattern. What are you thinking? You can repeat the process, you may only have a few dominate thoughts, and they may all lead to one or two emotions. This helps you see how powerful your thoughts are; thoughts create emotions.
How Journaling Relieves Anxiety
Journaling relieves anxiety by calming your mind, releasing negative thoughts and helps you identify emotions associated with those thoughts. Above all, it helps to reveal triggers for your anxiety and when it is at its worst. Your self-awareness is enhanced as you learn particular events that cause fear and anxiety. This allows you to prepare in advance for stressful situations. Journaling also provides a way of tracking your progress; and things that are most helpful to you in managing your anxiety.
As you journal each day, you will begin to notice more control over your emotions. You will no longer be taken by surprise by fear or anger because you will start to recognize how they feel in your body. You will observe repetitive thought patterns and which of those patterns cause you the most anxiety. Learning how journaling relieves anxiety will empower you to face difficult situations with more confidence.