If you occasionally struggle with anxiety, you are not alone. Anxiety is one of the most common disorders, affecting 40 million adults every year in the USA alone. Journaling is not often considered as a viable method to deal with anxiety, but there are more than enough reasons to reconsider journaling as a way to help with anxiety.
Unlike some wellbeing boosters, journaling can be done when you’re feeling too self-conscious or depleted of energy to do other things. Journaling can be done from bed, can draw focus from frazzling and can help you better understand yourself. That latter perk being perhaps a slow burner, but also profoundly helpful.
For these reasons and more, journaling can be a great self-help tool all round. For anxiety, it can be of particular benefit. This article discusses some of the reasons why, as well as reasons journaling can be great for your well being generally.
- What does journaling really mean?
- Studies showing the effects of journaling on anxiety
- 5 ways journaling helps with anxiety
- Anxiety and journaling
Journaling, gratitude, mindfulness, and introspection. What do all these things have in common? It’s that they’re all significantly correlated to your happiness. That’s what the section Journaling For Happiness is all about in the biggest (freely available) guide on how to be happy.
What does journaling really mean?
Journaling is simply writing down your thoughts and feelings. That’s it.
Journaling doesn’t require great effort nor any sum of money beyond that of a notebook and pen (unless you journal digitally by phone or computer). For these reasons, it can be easier to turn to than creatively, socially or physically expressing thoughts and feelings – as with art, therapy or exercise, for example. You simply write what’s on your mind and gain the relief, comfort and other therapeutic benefits. It’s as simple as that.
Whether you’ve had a bad day at work, a good evening with friends or a falling out with a relative, you can always confide into a journal. Unwind the tensions of your mind by giving the restless thoughts somewhere else to be. Otherwise, they rattle around in your head, unfocused and ignored but not expressed. This can result in varying forms of stress or distress.
Studies showing the effects of journaling on anxiety
Studies on journaling as a self-help tool have demonstrated its value. From the workplace to hospital patients, journaling appears to reduce stress and improve resilience and wellbeing.
Here are just a couple of examples of how journaling has helped.
Journaling unburdens you of negative emotions
Anxiety, like all mental health issues, can leave sufferers feeling overwhelmed. The emotions can weigh heavy on you and – over time – can eventually become too much to bear. Talking to loved ones, friends or therapists can help alleviate some of the pressure that is otherwise purely internalized and perpetuated.
One study notes that journaling has even been found to have clinical benefits with patients suffering a range of conditions, from irritable bowel syndrome to lupus. It has also been found to have beneficial effects on blood pressure.
Talking therapy is in some ways superior, especially with the right mental health professional, but journaling has its own advantages:
- Journaling does not require public vulnerability.
- Journaling is available at any time and as often as you need.
- Journalers may feel more comfortable being completely honest and raw, thereby offloading in a more cathartic manner.
- Journaling is practically free.
- Journaling comes without external pressures or restrictions.
- Journaling is discreet and easy.
- Those who suffer from anxiety in particular might find it easier to journal than to talk to someone.
Journaling helps to identify your triggers
Participants in this study on journaling and reducing anxiety found that it enabled them to better identify their triggers. By recounting situations in detail, participants could better see the minor triggers and coping strategies that took place.
Without journaling, these finer points may get lost or forgotten. It’s good to draw attention to them to better navigate similar situations in the future.
For example, if you note that having water with you in an anxious situation or a backup plan ahead of time helped reduce stress, you can consciously repeat these things another time. Conversely, if not having the right equipment for a task worsened the anxiety of the situation, journaling helps you know better to be prepared for next time.
By recounting and visualizing situations when writing them down in a journal, you can see these things more clearly and learn from them. It’s otherwise all too easy to forget and move on, pegging it as a bad experience but not learning from the details.
5 ways journaling helps with anxiety
There are many reasons anxiety can benefit from journaling. Here are five big ones.
1. Journaling allows you to focus when anxious
I have found journaling personally useful during periods of high anxiety. In large part that’s due to the focus required to do it. Instead of ruminating and perpetuating anxiety, journaling requires a degree of presence and focus. In a way it’s almost a form of mindfulness. It draws you out of the head-haze of garbled worries and into the real world a little more.
In order to write you need to order your thoughts into a coherent narrative so that you can jot them down. This dissipates the haze of passive anxiety and background noise somewhat. Narrowing attention down to a quieter, single line of thought.
When writing your thoughts out, one by one, they take form in the present moment and no longer overwhelm. You can see them in the here and now rather than in the clouds your mind. It’s easy to get lost in the clouds and feel overwhelmed, whereas ordered on paper things don’t seem so daunting.
2. Journaling helps you remember practical information
When you journal, you might write down things you come across that help you get past anxiety. The more you do this the better you remember them – A) because it’s like revision, cementing the idea deeper into your brain through more active cognition and repetition, and B ) because you have literally documented the idea and can revisit it later.
I often find pieces of information about something that eased anxiety that day. It helps me to feel uplifted but more importantly is of practical use.
It’s not advisable to overindulge your entries if they tend to be penned during negative times. But it can be helpful to come across tips you’ve written for yourself that you otherwise had forgotten. Just remember to take negative narratives with a pinch of salt, and to revisit such entries when you are in a more balanced and resilient frame of mind.
Tip: In order to create a more uplifting journal to revisit, among other great benefits, practice gratitude in your journal. Write about things that have made you happy or that you are grateful for, either that day or in general. This could be anything from a magnificent animal you saw to an act of kindness from a friend. When you put things like that routinely into your journal it can really brighten its tone – and as a result, yours!
3. Journaling can relieve you of worry
Journaling can work kind of like a shopping list. It works well with anxiety because once you write your anxieties down, you may no longer feel the need to keep dwelling on them.
You write a shopping list for fear of forgetting things. Well, anxiety is our brain’s way of constantly reminding us about things we ‘need’ to worry about. If you write the fears down some of your brain can let go because you know you won’t forget them.
Juggling an entire list of worry items in your mind is stressful. Delegate them safely into a journal and see if it doesn’t relieve you of some mental strain.
4. Journaling can give you hope
Journaling can help nullify some concerns that may crop up in an anxious mind frame. For example, I often used to become convinced that the thoughts and sensations I would experience during periods of anxiety were new and therefore more frightening in their unknown-ness. On more than one occasion I have leafed back in my journal to compare against other times of high anxiety. What I would find would console me significantly – I had written down all the exact same fears and concerns during those periods too, evidently coming out the other side sooner or later to find them unfounded.
Rediscovering these truths, that you have gone through things before and survived them, can be greatly sobering for a mind with existential fears.
5. Journaling is like consistently having someone to talk to
Anxiety can make you feel alone and isolated. It can prevent you from reaching out to friends, family members or professionals. We are social creatures by nature and in trying times our need to talk, whether about the problems we’re facing or about something completely different, is even greater. To be isolated at such a point can drive you up the wall.
Having a journal to open up to is a great way to still have those conversations. To feel heard and held, like someone is there to catch your cascading thoughts and feelings.
To have this reliable, safe space to mull things over at any time is a great comfort. It can feel particularly important to have that familiar security when things otherwise feel chaotic, confusing and scary.
Anxiety and journaling
Keeping a journal is like keeping a friend and a therapist but travel sized. Reliable and discreet. This can be particularly helpful if you’re a bit of a worrywart. It’s therapeutic but it’s not a big deal. It can help you to learn about your anxiety and manage it better. It can help you vent your emotions and let go of rumination. Perhaps best of all it provides a safe space to be heard, if only by yourself, and become more grounded.
For anxiety, being able to reap these benefits anytime, anywhere without leaving your comfort zone, is invaluable. You can take a journal to the office or confide in it late at night when you can’t sleep. You can get a form of therapy without exposing yourself to someone.
Journaling may not be the holy grail that will end all of your anxiety, no one thing ever is. But journaling does provide a lot of benefits to wellbeing and anxiety especially. Since it’s practically free, why not give it a try?
Henry CollardMental health writer
Mental health blogger with a passion for learning ways to improve wellbeing. I also love to write fantasy, learn about history and play video games. Which I suppose makes me an all-round nerd.