Our brains are incredible. They are the command center for every process in the body, including the beating of the heart. Our brains process stimuli from all five senses, learn, store memories, and produce ideas. While our brains are capable of many crucial and astounding things, they can sometimes produce frightening thoughts and spin into chaos. Sometimes we feel fear and panic and our thoughts are racing. It can be hard to know how to regain control and a sense of peace.
The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has reported that 6.8 million adults in the U.S. are affected by anxiety; however, experts agree that the number is likely higher due to underreporting. Anxiety is common and, to some degree, affects most people at one point in their lives or another. Fortunately, journaling is a very beneficial tool for combatting intrusive thoughts and persistent worries. Journaling for anxiety is an active form of treatment that will help you gain perspective, leading to a calm and clear mind.
According to the latest research, journaling reduces anxiety by releasing suppressed feelings and negative thoughts, clearing the mind, and enhancing self-awareness. When anxiety is lowered, our physical health improves as well. Writing down your thoughts helps you identify triggers and patterns in your thinking. When your thoughts are on paper, you can begin analyzing them, challenging them, and—the best part—overcoming them. By replacing destructive thought patterns with positive ones, you can even create new neural pathways in your brain.
How to Begin
There are several methods used in journaling for anxiety. You are sure to find one that will produce results for you. Some methods can be combined and are more effective when used together. Grab a journal, a pen, and find a quiet place to begin.
With this method, spend up to 15 minutes writing down every thought swimming in your mind. Be sure to skip a line between each thought you write and don’t get caught up on spelling, grammar, or the neatness of your handwriting. The important thing here is to get everything out of your mind and onto paper where you can have a visual of your thoughts. Next, you will read through everything you wrote. In the lines you skipped below each thought, use a different colored pen as you think critically and challenge the thought in writing. See if you can identify the source of the anxiety and ask yourself if there’s another way to think about it. Doing so can help you gain perspective as well as a more positive outlook. The sense of relief that comes with emptying your mind will be a huge bonus.
Sometimes anxious thoughts develop in response to our busy lives. With so much floating around in our minds, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Did you use the last bit of toothpaste and only remembered it was gone when you went to use it next? We are constantly taking mental notes of things to do—all of which can easily get lost swirling around with our anxious thoughts. To create calm and order, make a list of tasks each day. If you accomplish everything on your list, great. If not, try again tomorrow. You will have less burdening thoughts because your tasks are clearly laid out and you have a plan of action.
Section of Positivity
The goal of this method is to create a positive section in your journal that you can visit when you’re feeling anxious. This section will look different for everyone, but it will function the same. Make this a place that will uplift you with positive feelings. Some ideas for this section: inspirational quotes, a vision board, a list of your accomplishments, pictures with friends or loved ones, and a list of your favorite memories.
Gratitude journaling is very powerful and proves consistently beneficial. This method requires you to find the silver lining in everything—and it does exist. Gratitude has neurobiological effects, meaning that it helps activate our parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, thinking about what we’re grateful for calms us. You can’t be in a positive and negative state at the same time, so the more time you spend looking for the good is less time you’ll feel anxious. Begin by listing a few things you are grateful for and 3-5 reasons why you are grateful for each thing. Gratitude journaling works best if you do it multiple times throughout the week.
Letter to Self
This method is particularly beneficial to those who experience panic attacks. You will write a letter to your future self while you feel calm and safe. Summon all the positivity and reassurance you can. Write to convince yourself that the frightening feelings will pass and your body will return to a state of balance. This letter will be powerful to read over when you are experiencing a panic attack.
It’s okay if you need a little more direction. Prompts are great to get you writing. The following prompts encourage self-discovery and new insights into your thoughts:
- Write down your best coping mechanisms and how they’ve helped you.
- What is causing you pain and anxiety right now?
- What is one thing you look forward to every day?
- What 5 things cause you the most worry?
- What lessons have you learned from your most difficult experiences?
- What do you think your anxiety might be trying to tell you?
- What is something you need to let go of? What are your reasons for holding on to it?
- List three affirmations you can say to yourself today.
- Imagine you are free from anxiety. What does your life look like?
- What 3 things can you do to benefit your mental health?
Be consistent with one or more of the methods above and you’ll be well on your way to better managing anxiety. Once you identify the stressors that lead to your anxiety, you can formulate a plan to combat them. You are much more than your thoughts and you have what it takes to reclaim control.