Could a notebook really hold the secret to unlocking your anxiety?
It sounds strange, but journaling may be able to do just that. This therapeutic exercise is often used to help people gain insight into their anxious thoughts and express them in a healthy way.
The biggest trouble with anxious thoughts is that they send the person experiencing them into an endless cycle.
You can’t have just one anxious thought.
There will always be more to follow, and finding a way through the noise is crucial to recovery.
Through journaling, a person with anxiety can start to offload their thoughts and physically release them onto paper. Moreover, they gain the opportunity to reflect later, draw conclusions, and gain an awareness they likely wouldn’t if they only kept living in their heads.
How does journaling help anxiety?
Like depression, anxiety runs on rumination.
Rumination is the act of intensely focusing on repetitive negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
While people with anxiety may focus on thoughts about things they do not want to occur, rumination creates the opposite reality.
Someone with anxiety will spend hours a day fixating on potential catastrophes and perceived dangers.
A person with a generalized anxiety disorder may experience hundreds of small, anxious thoughts throughout the day.
Someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has anxious thoughts about particular obsessions that fuels their need to “cleanse” or “fix” them through specific actions (compulsions).
There are multiple forms of evidence-based therapy for anxiety, and the greatest success comes from personalized treatment plans. Journaling is one strategy that anyone can try, even without a therapist, to start working through their anxious thoughts.
The greatest benefit of journaling for anxiety is having a space to put your thoughts down. They feel overwhelmed and often cloud better judgment when they are locked into a person’s mind.
Moreover, anxious thoughts can create pathways in the brain that make them more likely to occur. As people continue to dwell on these thoughts, those pathways are enforced, and the anxiety and fears they have surrounding them are reinforced.
Journaling provides a new way of dealing with the same old anxious thoughts. The physical act of writing and formulating a narrative leads to greater self-awareness. It also creates distance between you and your thoughts.
Journaling reminds you that you are not your thoughts, no matter how personal, real, and painful they may be.
Effects of journaling on anxiety
Journaling is a cathartic exercise that helps the writer release pent-up emotional stress and anxiety.
As you come to let go of your difficult thoughts and feelings, stress levels decrease.
Stress and anxiety are closely linked. Someone with higher stress is likely to feel more anxious and vice-versa.
By reducing the level of stress hormones in the body, a person can soothe their sympathetic nervous system and bring themselves back to a less anxious, healthy baseline.
Even when you aren’t feeling particularly anxious, journaling can help you organize your thoughts and manage stress. Left unchecked, stress tends to mount, even subconsciously.
Having a dedicated space to let go of whatever is on your mind can bring instant relief. It may not provide all the answers, but it can give some much-needed rest and perspective to your problems.
Calm anxiety attacks
An anxiety attack can come out of nowhere, and it usually strikes at the worst possible moment.
Journaling is portable, accessible, and easy to do. You don’t have to make sense of everything or even write in complete sentences.
During an anxiety attack, your journal is a space for you to write down whatever you are going through. It can even be helpful to start by simply writing I’m having an anxiety attack.
When you are able to frame your experience on paper, you immediately get a physical and psychological break from what’s going on in your body.
This is essential in finding balance again after an anxiety attack. In the midst of one, the world can feel as though it’s spiraling out of control.
Through journaling, especially during moments of acute stress, you can remind yourself to breathe, talk yourself through your anxiety, and take small steps toward peace.
Anxiety seems to strike out of nowhere, but it often has specific triggers.
If you can learn how to identify your triggers, you can learn to either avoid them or change the way you perceive them.
It may not be easy to realize exactly what caused you to feel anxious just by tracing a thought in your head.
Trying to track a thought in an anxious mind is like trying to find a needle in a haystack in the middle of a hurricane.
But through journaling, you can keep a log of your anxious thoughts, when they occurred, and how they made you feel.
As you look back on these thoughts, you can begin to piece together the primary triggers that set off your anxiety and possibly identify underlying causes.
Triggers may be physical things, like a door handle you fear is contaminated, or emotional. They can even be people and certain social interactions.
Journaling is a place for you to jot down everything in a way that is entirely your own. There is no right or wrong way to express your thoughts — the only thing that matters is capturing what you’re feeling so you can get through it safely.
Rediscover your own voice
Living with anxiety can make it hard for you to remember what just being yourself feels like.
Your thoughts may be so riddled with anxiety that you have a hard time separating a you thought from an anxiety thought.
Through journaling, your own voice will begin to emerge on the page. At first, you may only write exactly whatever your anxiety says on the paper. But it doesn’t stop there.
Over time, you start to recognize your anxiety for what it is and explain it in your own words.
You may surprise yourself at how much self-awareness you have once you’re able to sit down and engage with your thoughts in such a way.
Most importantly, perhaps, this exercise reminds you that you are not your anxiety. Even if your anxiety currently rules your life, you are still a vibrant, talented, smart person who has so much to offer yourself and the world.
Ways to journal for anxiety
There are several different ways to journal that you may find helpful. The most obvious is picking up a notebook (or even a piece of paper) and writing with whatever’s within reach.
You don’t need to have any expensive journals or pens to start. All you need is a willingness to write and show up for yourself on the paper.
These two exercises can help you get started if you’re unsure how to journal for anxiety.
Write your worries – with a limit
For 10 or 15 minutes, freely write whatever is on your mind. If it bothers you or makes you anxious, write it down.
The key is to use a timer that sets a boundary for your own anxiety. You are telling your thoughts that they do not get to rule over your entire day. This is the time to bring up concerns and draw a line for your own emotional well-being.
It’s a way to take power back from anxiety that often asserts itself in every aspect of your life.
This exercise is an easy way to vent without focusing too much on content. You also don’t need to worry about structure or full sentences. Even a list with some notes whenever they feel appropriate is fine.
You can also choose to describe a particular situation or stressor, what it means to you, and the ways you can get through it. Seeing your options on paper, even if that just means deep breathing until the anxiety passes, can bring relief.
Challenge your thoughts
For this exercise, you will follow three steps:
- Write down an anxious thought as it arises in your mind, e.g. “I’m going to fail this job interview.”
- Write and answer the question: “How likely is this to occur? What proof do I have?”
- Write and answer the question: “If this does happen, will it be as bad as I think it will be?”
In many cases, even having negative events happen do not end in the catastrophes anxious minds create. In the above example, failing a job interview may be embarrassing or frustrating, but those feelings pass.
Failing a job interview once also does not mean you can’t improve your skills, build confidence, and do better at another (and there will be another so long as you continue to apply!)
Do you need professional help with your anxiety?
Admitting that you need help to control and manage your anxiety takes courage.
You may be fearful that your anxiety isn’t severe enough or that a therapist can’t help. That doesn’t have to stop you from seeking treatment.
Through our anxiety treatment program, we help people find freedom from the anxious thoughts, compulsive behaviors, and patterns that have overtaken their lives.
Together, we can help you build coping skills, debunk anxiety myths, and live free no matter what types of thoughts you experience.
You can do all of this while enjoying peaceful surroundings, natural scenery, and a beautiful campus in Florida.
Please contact us today to learn more about our anxiety treatment program.