woman writing in a journal with coffee

Journaling For Anxiety: Take Charge of Your Thoughts

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with emotion that you felt something burst inside you? Have you ever had one negative thought that quickly spiraled into catastrophizing thoughts? Was there ever a time you sat down, thought through those feelings, and wrote them down? Did you feel relieved and empowered to let those feelings out? That’s the power of journaling.   People have kept journals for a very long time. It’s as old as handwriting itself. What started as a public record for accounting has gradually shifted as a tool for self-reflection. Scholars, scientists, and philosophers filled their journals with clever observations and ideas, and writers, artists, and other creatives journaled as part of their creative process. However, the therapeutic benefits of journaling didn’t come into public awareness until psychologist Dr. Ira Progoff began offering workshops called the Intensive Journal Method in the 1960s. Since then, journaling has become a hallmark of self-care and a therapist’s most recommended tool to help fight anxiety.  Journaling involves writing down one’s thoughts and emotions. It’s a cost-effective but valuable tool for better emotional and mental health. In this fast-paced world, journaling helps slow down thoughts and subdue overwhelming feelings. Let’s look at how journaling for anxiety can benefit you and how to get started. 

Benefits of Journaling for Anxiety

woma in hammock reading journal Journaling is a simple activity with significant returns. It provides mental and physical health benefits to improve the overall quality of life, and can provide actionable insights so you can limit exposure to anxiety triggers. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits. 

1. Help Manage Your Thoughts

One of the ways journaling can help manage anxiety is by working through anxious feelings. You can identify and reduce some of the causes of your anxiety through focused investigation. Journaling can help you examine your thoughts and shift them from damaging and ruminative to confident and action-oriented. Instead of letting negative thoughts run around in your mind, journaling for anxiety allows you to engage and challenge your beliefs which helps you determine whether they are true or false. Through journaling, a person can create a “coherent narrative” of their life, enabling them to project a positive view of themselves – one less prone to anxious thoughts. 

2. Help Identify the Root Cause of Your Anxiety

Keeping a record of your anxiety symptoms over time allows you to identify any physiological causes or situational triggers. Journaling is a great place to start when trying to identify your triggers. It keeps a record of your thoughts and helps you see patterns and links that are not initially evident. It also enables you to learn more about your behavior and practices.  After a few weeks of journaling, look back over your notes and see if any patterns emerge. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see what calms you down and what triggers your anxiety. When you have these actionable insights, you can use them to prevent any triggers or limiting beliefs and prevent anxious feelings.  One way you can do this is through EFT, a self-help technique that involves tapping your fingertips on specific body parts to create a balance in your energy system. Tapping stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which signals multiple systems in our body to relax and stay calm and increases positive emotions. As positivity increases, our unconscious mind decreases our anxiety response. 

3. Helps Cultivate Gratitude

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley studied the effects of practicing gratitude on people with mental health concerns. They found that the participants who wrote gratitude letters, even for a short time, reported significant improvements in their mental health.  Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, defines it as “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received. We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” Noting and counting all the positives in your life through journaling can help you see the glass as half-full and shift your outlook. Writing down what you’re thankful for can help you see more positivity in your life and give less power to negative thoughts. 

4. Help Accept Things You Can’t Change

Several research studies link acceptance with greater psychological health because it helps people experience less negative emotion in response to stressors. Journaling promotes mindful acceptance, reframes situations, and helps us realize that many things are out of our control. Seeing our fears and worries written down on paper is the first step to acknowledging and moving past them. We release an emotional catharsis by jotting down our thoughts and feelings. While unearthing unwanted thoughts can be upsetting, it is a valuable part of the acceptance process. 

Journaling For Anxiety Tips

So what do I write about? How often must I write? When’s the best time to write? These are often the first questions we ask ourselves when getting started. These six tips can help:

1. Use journal prompts

If you want to start journaling for anxiety but don’t know where to start, use prewritten journal prompts to spark reflection and give you direction. From there, it’s up to you whether you want to continue using prompts or try free writing. You can also create a list of your own prompts if you want to resolve a particular aspect of your life. You can also use the same prompt daily to discover new insights as our thinking process changes over time. Try these common and easy journaling prompts to get started. 
  • Write down all your anxious thoughts.
  • How can you be kinder to yourself when having anxious thoughts?
  • What are the signs of an anxiety attack?
  • When I feel angry, I tend to…
  • When I feel sad, I tend to…
  • What would you like to accomplish today?
  • List 5 things you are most proud of. 
  • What does a perfect day look like?
  • What is something I always look forward to?
  • What activities make me calm?

2. Make it a habit.

Like any habit, the only way to journal regularly is to make time every day. An easy way to do this is to anchor journaling to another practice you already do. For example, if you like to drink your coffee leisurely in the morning, make it a habit to write in your journal between sips. Or, if you exercise every day, you can squeeze in a few lines while waiting for your body to cool down after a workout and before hitting the shower.  Setting aside a specific time to journal every day helps prioritize this new healthy habit. Find a time that works for you, so it doesn’t feel like a chore. You can try writing at various times of the day and see what feels right for you. 

3. Make your journal accessible.

When your journal is handy, you can quickly jot down your thoughts or release your anxiety. If you prefer writing right after waking up or before sleeping, keep your journal on your bedside table so you can easily reach it. If you take the bus, writing while in transit can be an excellent time to reflect on things in your life. It’s also a great way to pass the time when waiting for a doctor’s appointment or when you’re waiting for your turn in the bank. Even bringing your journal on vacation can help you write about new experiences while they’re still fresh in your mind.

4. Reflect on what you’ve written

Reflection is part of journaling. After writing down your thoughts, read and meditate on what you have written. Examining your anxious thoughts can help relieve anxiety and stop you from ruminating. It enables you to see that things are not as bad as you think or that they’re less likely to happen again. It uncovers thought patterns and provides insights into your anxiety triggers.  After writing, ask yourself questions like:
  • Why did I have these feelings and thoughts in the first place?
  • Are there any things I could change?
  • Could I make the best of my situation?

5. Get creative

There is no right or wrong way to journal. You can even express yourself with other modes; journaling doesn’t have to be just about writing complete sentences. Your journal should have a personal touch and reflect your personality. It should make you look forward to writing. Make some messy doodles, or add some of your favorite movie quotes to reflect on your feelings. Jot down a list of your favorite movies, TV shows, songs, or books, and write why you love them. Write a letter to yourself or somebody you want to make peace with. You don’t have to send it – writing unsent letters is a cathartic journaling technique to help you gain clarity, closure, and peace.

6. Find a comfortable spot.

Journaling should be enjoyable and rewarding and not something you think you must knock off your daily to-do’s. Finding a comfortable place to write helps the words come more quickly. You’ll feel more at ease, have fewer interruptions, and focus more on writing down your thoughts. Your space could be your couch, dining table, bed, or wherever you feel you can relieve your worries and anxieties. Make it extra special by lighting some candles or by adding more pillows. Your journaling space should be a special spot where you can focus and feel at peace.

You Are One Journal Away From Peace of Mind

woman writing in journal on beach If you are struggling with anxiety, consider starting a journal to manage and filter through the jumble of thoughts and emotions that might exacerbate your anxiousness. Journaling isn’t just a way to manage anxiety – it can also empower you to take charge and provide actionable insights for your life. Journaling is a healthy outlet and can become part of your daily routine to nurture your overall mental wellness. Want to get started journaling? Check out our Brave Journal to start your journey to a braver you. Another thing that can significantly help is getting professional advice. Going to therapy can give you insights into what triggers your catastrophizing thoughts. You are also given the tools and techniques to restructure your thinking more positively. This way, you can manage triggers in a healthier and more optimistic approach. We hope these strategies will encourage you to take the first step to managing anxiety.