How To Keep A Journal For Anxiety And Why It Helps
Can journaling help anxiety? Can writing down your thoughts and your daily activities help with your anxiety and stress?
I would argue yes.
Because I’m all about managing your anxiety rather than ‘curing’ it – which I don’t believe in, I’ve always had a curiosity around journaling for anxiety. This post is all about my thoughts on journaling for anxiety, or keeping a thought diary, and how it can benefit you as a long term anxiety defence tool.
Journaling is something many of us have done at some point in our lives. Many children (and adults to be fair) keep diaries for the purposes of keeping a tab on what they’ve been up to, and also to look back on .
A diary keeps your mind focused as you look back on your logs. It’s ultimately a way of documenting your daily happenings. For what ever reason you may keep a journal or a diary, there’s no question that journaling can help with anxiety – in my personal opinion.
The Benefits Of Journaling For Anxiety
Whilst being an effective way of lowering anxiety, journaling also has the added benefits of;
- Lowering stress
- Keeping things clear in your head
- releasing negative thoughts
- mindfulness effects
- Being a creative outlet
Did you used to keep a diary as a child? How did you feel when you knuckled down into your diary to write about your day? Pretty good?
I know I did. I kept a diary for a number of years until I ultimately lost interest. It is only now I’m a bit older that I can understand and see the benefits of journaling, or as I like to call it – keeping a thought diary.
There are many benefits of journaling but the above are just some.
Here’s why some people might not keep a journal – they might say;
- Only kids keep journals
- I don’t have time
- It can’t help my anxiety
- I’m not a writer
- I can’t commit to that habit
Let’s be honest with ourselves, we all have time each day to write a paragraph or two in a journal. You don’t have to be good at writing or even spelling. Simply writing down your thoughts each day can open your mind.
Research Backs Keeping A Thought Diary
Not sold on keeping a journal? Science also backs the idea of keeping a journal for anxiety. Research conducted by psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker at the university of Texas had some interesting findings.
Pennebaker believes that writing has a profound effect on us mentally. The study consisted of 50 undergrad students and involved them writing about personal trauma or superficial events. The study was carried out over four days. Participants were asked to write down their thoughts on the issues that bothered them for each of the four days.
The researchers found that the students who wrote the most about trauma has the greatest increase in immune improvement. The findings indicated that those who wrote the most and for the longest had the greatest improvement in physical and mental health/
Pennebaker’s study found that writing;
- Improved the immune system
- Decreased insomnia
- Decreased blood pressure
- Improved liver function
- Improved memory
This study shows us that not only does journaling help mental health, but it also has positive physical effect on the body.
Keeping A Gratitude Journal For Overall Health
If you know how to keep a journal for anxiety now, you can also think about keeping a gratitude journal or making space in your anxiety journal for some gratitude pages. Keeping a gratitude journal has also shown to improve mental and physical health.
So often we end up in a rut of negativity, and before long, everything just seems bad.
In a different study, Researcher Robert Emmons looked at the effect of keeping a gratitude journal. Participants were separated into three groups. The first group were instructed to write about negative things. The second group was instructed to write about the things they were grateful for, and the third group were asked to write about neutral events.
This study showed that those who wrote about the things they were grateful for ended up showing more signs of compassion and contemptment.
It kind of goes without saying that writing about things you’re grateful for will give you a higher sense of purpose but it’s perhaps something that may be dismissed as something that’s not important.
When we’re anxious or depressed, we feel as if the world is crashing down around us. Often, we’re ignoring what we’re grateful for because we only focus on the negatives.
If you start a journal for anxiety, consider leaving pages betwen your logs to write down what you’re grateful for each and everyday.
Declutter Your Mind
Journaling for anxiety also de-clutters your mind. Often we take negative, anxious thoughts to bed with us without releasing them. Journaling gets your thoughts onto paper which can give you a great sense of control back.
That’s what I used to struggle with the most when I was suffering with generalised anxiety disorder. My mind was like a jumbled up pile of trash. Nothing had a place, I was simply stacking up thoughts and chucking them on the pile, never releasing them.
I took back control of my thoughts and thought patterns and this clarity is a huge piece of the anxiety puzzle.
Often times we can find ourselves and our thoughts bouncing around inside our heads, constantly engaged and unrested.
If you can lay your thoughts down and look at them from afar, you can begin to see them for what they are and if they are even important at all.
The Main Reason Journaling For Anxiety Is Important
Here’s the deal. When we are anxious and frittering away each day, it’s easy to lose track of how things really are. It’s easy to lose sight of what we actually need to be doing. It’s also easy to lose sight of what we’re actually anxious about.
Although journaling isn’t a magic bullet cure for anxiety disorders, it puts your life into perspective. Being able to look over your previous logs is powerful stuff.
You can see patterns in your thoughts and behaviour and begin to learn what is making you anxious, when you feel most anxious and ultimately get a chance to step back and look at yourself.
A great resource for if you’re new to journaling for anxiety. This book; The Anxiety Journal: Exercises to soothe stress and eliminate anxiety wherever you are is a great way to stay accountable when you’re using your journal. It saves you mapping out a blank journal and gives you prompts, mindfulness practises and allows you to structure your entries.
If you don’t want to have to think about logging your anxious thoughts each day, this is the journal for you.
How To Keep A Journal For Anxiety
All you need is a pen and a journal. Try not to put pressure on yourself. This doesn’t need to be perfect at all. This is simply the daily thoughts that you’ve had.
It doesn’t even have to strictly be about your thoughts, your logs can simply be about what happened in your day. If you really want to get the full effects of journaling for anxiety, you’ll want to score your anxiety levels.
This can be done by giving you anxiety on a certain day a ‘score’ from one to ten. One being the least, ten being the highest.
Writing down your thoughts and activities with a ‘score’ helps to show you how your anxiety has fluctuated or stayed the same.
Your logs don’t have to be about anything specific, this is just an exercise of getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
To give you a few ideas, here are some anxiety journaling prompts that’ll get you going;
- What I liked about today was
- What I didn’t like about today was
- The best thing that happened today was
- If i had to describe today I’d say it was
- The reason I felt anxious today was
- I kept my anxiety low today by
- I woke up feeling
- The thing I thought the most about today was
- I am looking forward to
- X wasn’t great but I’m doing X instead
- I felt anxious today but I tried
- My anxiety level was X today
My Anxiety Journal
It’s fair to say that I don’t always fill out my journal these days. However – it would be a lie to say that I don’t use Projectenergise.com as a type of journal. Although I don’t suffer with extreme anxiety anymore, blogging has now become my journal.
It’s one of the tools I use to continue to felt out all of my thoughts whether good or bad. It has the added benefits of helping other in the process. I find that writing is very therapeutic, it’s fun but it’s also a skill worth practising.
I’ve always said that learning a new skill when you’re anxious gives you a feeling of self worth and accomplishment. Perhaps there’s also a little bit of ‘taking your mind off things’ but I don’t encourage that kind of behaviour. I’d rather you tackled your problem head on.
Journaling For Anxiety Conclusion
As well as being a great way to track your anxious thoughts, I think journaling for anxiety and using the anxiety prompts above is a brilliant way to become self aware.
If you use the 1-10 technique to track your anxiety you can instantly see which days you’re worse on, and which days you aren’t so anxious.
After all, what is tracked can be managed.
Having a journal doesn’t have to be a heavy thing. If you forget to write an entry, it’s no big deal. However it should be a habit that you continue to do to see the benefits.
If you’ve had any experience yourself with journaling for anxiety, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.
Here’s to your success – Sean