This is a guide covering everything you need to know about journaling for anxiety and mental health.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at times where our head starts spinning and it feels like the walls are closing in.
When this happens, turning to a journal can allow you to feel less anxious by processing your thoughts and emotions.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
What is an Anxiety Journal?
An anxiety journal is the most accessible method of dealing with stress and anxiety. It is widely recommended by therapists because it uses journaling as a method of soothing and eliminating anxiety and anxiety-related thoughts.
You can use any journal type for anxiety. There are specialized anxiety journals out there with journaling prompts for anxiety, but if you are someone who is just willing to give an anxiety journal a try, you can start with a simple notebook.
Journal writing is now considered staple advice on the internet for improving mental health.
A common mental health issue these days is anxiety, and there is no shortage of mental health practitioners advocating the benefits of journaling for anxiety.
Almost everyone goes through life unaware of their thoughts, and the ways in which these thoughts influence us. The same can be said for our feelings, emotions, and moods.
But when you journal for anxiety, it becomes easier to identify and, thereby, sort out your thought patterns, your moods, and the fluctuations in emotions.
There is extensive research to back this up as well. Writing, as a form of intervention practice to treat mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression, is extremely effective.
But how do you journal for anxiety?
No need to get fancy from the get-go.
The purpose of an anxiety journal is to get to the bottom of your thought patterns, and in so doing, process your emotions as well.
Some people ruminate on the past, others worry about the future to a point where they start catastrophizing every scenario, and then there are others who have regular panic attacks.
If you are someone going through any type of anxiety disorder, the odds are that you will have heard of journaling as an intervention technique to help eliminate anxiety.
An anxiety journal can be used in many ways.
Expressive writing is one great way where you write expressively in order to recognize how you jump from thought to thought and how your thought patterns work.
The cognitive-behavioral therapy way of journaling is another technique that is widely used in psychology to counter the effects of negative thought patterns by reframing the thoughts.
In cognitive-behavior therapy, you focus on how you can reframe a thought to take the sting out of it.
The concept is based on the quote,
“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.”
Can Journaling Help With Anxiety?
Journaling is a great way to process your thoughts and feelings.
Time, especially in this day and age, is nothing but a blur, and if you add to that the seemingly all-encompassing pressures of life, it is not hard to imagine that we struggle to stay present.
The ‘monkey mind’ is always thinking about something. Never keep still. After years of this maddening rat race, you realize that it takes a toll on your mental health.
You are either too worried about the future or stuck in the past.
If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
“If you are at peace, you are living in the present .” – Lao Tzu
Although meditation is a great way to cage the monkey mind, the effects of journal writing on soothing anxiety are equally impressive.
The act of writing about your thoughts in an exploratory manner is meditative in its own way which helps you slow down the thinking process so you can actually see your thoughts for what they are.
Anxious thoughts, when processed in the broad light of your consciousness, may even seem absurd or far-fetched because most anxious thoughts are empty catastrophizing, or needless ruminations on past or future.
Research into participants going through separation anxiety (the feeling of loss or separation after losing a loved one) identified that writing for anxiety helped them identify excessive intrusive ruminations.
So what is an anxiety journal then and how is it different from the other journals?
What Should You Journal About for Anxiety?
So how can you use the power of journaling to help with your anxiety? Here are some of the things that you can write about to help with anxiety.
1. Emotionally-Focused Expressive Writing
Our thoughts are closely related to our emotions. One influences the other. If we can process our emotions then we will also be able to work on our thoughts and vice versa.
But due to one experience or another, we cannot fully express ourselves. This is known as emotional blocking. It also restricts our ability to experience anything real.
On top of that, emotional blocking creates unprocessed feelings. The result is that many times it is hard to identify why we are sad, depressed, or anxious. That’s where expressive writing comes in.
If you are going through anxious thoughts that are bothering you, journaling will calm you down and help you unclog or, at least, identify the reasons for why you feel the way that you do.
Journaling this way not only helps you stay present with the feeling longer, making you see the anxiety for what it really is, but it also weakens it so you are no longer bound by it.
Further, journaling for anxiety this way will give you some valuable insights into your anxiety and the ways in which you can cope with it.
2. Journal for Reframing Negative Thoughts
This is actually one of the core tenets of CBT (cognitive-behavior therapy).
A CBT research defines cognitive reframing as,
“changing the conceptual viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced.”
By reframing our thoughts, we start changing the narrative in our head that often plays on autopilot. We interfere with the negative thought patterns to introduce something more positive.
For example, if you are in your 30s, and you see your friends getting married before you, a negative thought pattern around your looks, financial positions, the world, in general, can start to develop.
But if you pause and stop to think about it, you realize that none of those things can actually influence you as long as you don’t allow them.
You can reframe the same scenario by reinforcing what you really believe about yourself, i.e. you are someone who is holding out for a special someone.
This way, you can change a lot of the things that are in your control instead of playing the victim and doing nothing about anything.
3. Journal to Identify Your Locus of Control
In your anxiety journal, identify the things that are under your control; the things that if you were to do something about would make you better.
On the other hand, explicitly express the things that are outside of your locus of control and let them be.
For example, if you are worried about an upcoming exam, you can start studying more and applying yourself inside and outside of class.
These are the things that you can control. On the other hand, if you are constantly thinking about the result, you will be putting yourself into needless anxiety.
To further explore the locus of control, we also recommend this video by Therapy in a Nutshell:
4. Write About the Obstacles You Have Overcome
Don’t lose the big picture. You have come a long way already, and there is not a single person who hasn’t achieved something their past self wouldn’t be proud of.
If you have done it before, you can do it again.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger .” – Friedrich Nietzsche
5. Journal About Gratitude
Gratitude is one of those emotions that can make you more present. Remember, when we move away from the present, we will either be depressed or anxious.
If you practice gratitude, you will experience that you are content with your circumstances. It’s not complacency but acceptance.
Mental Health Benefits of Journaling
Throughout history, many of the great writers, thinkers, and leaders have kept journals to keep track of their thoughts and ideas.
It is only in the past decade or so that psychologists have caught up and actually proven the benefits of regular journaling.
In a research titled Change your life through journaling–The benefits of journaling for registered nurses, researchers found that journaling had a positive effect over time on the ability of registered nurses to handle stress.
A similar positive effect of journaling was also found on their ability to feel compassion and fatigue recovery.
Similarly, a cancer patient group experienced improved mood after a few weeks since they started writing expressively in a journal.
Further, another research found that journaling (even digitally) can improve your well-being and reduce mental distress.
Mental health is improved by a daily or even a weekly journaling practice, granted that it is repeatedly performed and practiced over a longer duration of time.
The best way to reap the rewards of journaling is to make it a habit.
Example Journal Prompts for Anxiety
If you are someone who is an absolute beginner and do not know where to begin or how to start writing then using journaling prompts is a great way to get started.
Journal prompts are sentences, questions, or introspective statements that can help you start off.
There are specialized anxiety journals that come with standard prompt questions printed at the top of the page, which is then supposed to be filled out by the journaler.
But if you don’t want to invest in a special anxiety journal right off the bat, these anxiety journaling prompts will get you started even with a simple notebook:
- Describe how you overcame a certain obstacle in the past
- Give a detailed description of your mood, thoughts, or feelings during a panic or anxiety attack
- List the things you are grateful for
- What would be your ideal reaction to anxiety when it comes back
- Describe the strengths that you feel can help manage anxiety
- Write a letter of compassion to yourself
Tips for Mental Health Journaling
Journaling is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress. Here are a few practical tips that you can implement to start seeing the benefits of journaling for mental health.
- Journal in the morning or evening
- Start small; don’t overburden yourself from the get-go with a daily journaling routine. Do it twice or thrice a week
- Be descriptive
- Write in a stream of consciousness style. Structure does not matter
- Focus on developing a regular journaling habit (it doesn’t have to be daily)
To further explore tips to journal for anxiety and mental health, we also recommend this video by Rashawnda James:
Anxiety is a common mental health issue these days, but keeping a journal for anxiety can help with improving your mental health, identifying thought patterns, reducing anxiety and excessive ruminations, and helping you stay grounded.
Sikandar is opinionated on a diverse set of topics that include, but are not limited to, Productivity, Health, Fitness, Motivation, and Career. He is in love with the written word and writes mainly to help others on their self-actualizing journeys. A journalist by education, getting to the bottom of things is his modus operandi. Often, he finds himself moonlighting as a life coach to his family, friends, and colleagues. He can be reached at his LinkedIn for collaboration.