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Write your way out of anxiety: 6 benefits of journaling

March 9, 2022 - 18 min read

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What is anxiety journaling?

11 mental health benefits of journaling

How can journaling help you with anxiety?

8 tips to start journaling

Effective journaling prompts to help you with anxiety

Different types of journaling

Bottom line

Keeping a diary may feel like a thing of the past — say, the days of your 9-year-old self.

But as an adult, there are benefits to your well-being, too. Writing can help get swirling thoughts out of your head. And, thoughts on paper make it easier to reflect and see patterns. Starting to journal may help reduce anxiety, for instance. 

Discover the mental health benefits that accompany anxiety journaling and find some inspiration for how to get started.

 

What is anxiety journaling?

If you've ever wondered, "Does journaling help with anxiety?" the short answer is yes.

The primary goal of daily journaling for anxiety is to get your negative thoughts out of your head and someplace else. Journaling is a big thought record, and seeing your fears and anxieties written down on paper is a first step to acknowledging them and moving past them.

It helps you track your symptoms, too. Journaling helps you keep a record of your experiences to help you learn how to improve your mental health and provide anxiety relief. Perhaps you haven’t been able to narrow down where your anxiety comes from or all that it makes you feel.

But keeping a record may help you identify patterns in your anxiety and potential stress triggers.

No schedule is required for anxiety writing. You can make it a daily habit, journaling while you drink your morning coffee. Or, you may do it once a week. Journal whenever it works best for you.

Plus, journalling looks different for everyone. Some people write a paragraph while others write pages and pages of their thoughts. Since everyone experiences anxiety differently, they journal differently, too.

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11 mental health benefits of journaling

Journaling is often recommended to people struggling with their mental health. It’s a straightforward, non-demanding approach to controlling emotions and improving your mood.

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Here are some of the main health benefits of journaling for anxiety:

  1. It reduces stress levels 
  2. It can clear your head, which improves your ability to focus and cognitive function
  3. It enables more efficient problem-solving. Jotting things down allows us to see hurdles from multiple angles
  4. It can help you stop overthinking and practice self-awareness  
  5. It may reduce physical symptoms  — for instance, researchers found that women with breast cancer who journaled about their situation had fewer cancer-related appointments and reported fewer symptoms. 
  6.  It’s fun, low cost, and will elevate your mood
  7.  It helps uplift your emotional well-being and builds a positive mindset
  8.  It encourages you to open up and write about your feelings or struggles
  9.  It breaks a cycle of brooding and holding things inside you
  10.  It builds your self-awareness and helps you become more in tune with your emotions
  11. You might identify limiting beliefs that you can work to overcome

Think of journaling as talking to the world's best listener. You'll be free of judgment and won't have to worry about being interrupted, and you'll always be in a safe space away from prying eyes and opinions. Your worry journal is your own; it doesn't have any standards or regulations.

At BetterUp, we provide the perspective and accountability you need to grow into the best version of yourself. Journaling isn’t perfect, but it will always be in your toolbox, there when you need it. 

Two-women-sit-on-a-couch-together-and-write-in journals

How can journaling help you with anxiety?

Anxiety is your body's natural response to stressful events. It's normal to feel anxious, fearful and worried sometimes. But if anxiety hinders your everyday life, you may need to make a change. Unchecked, chronic overthinking and pessimistic self-talk can lead to anxiety disorders or depression. Perhaps you've been exploring all sorts of tools to help with anxiety, but nothing seems to work.

A great coping strategy is, of course, journaling. 

Anxiety journaling provides instant, temporary relief from overwhelming thoughts. It helps you face anxious thoughts, and even embrace them. By writing things down, you’ll face your vulnerabilities, which can reduce stress

And there's research to back it up, too. Positive affect journaling (PAJ) has been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve well-being. The act of writing down thoughts and feelings helps people understand themselves more and recognize what they need to improve.

The practice puts thoughts and feelings into words and makes them easier to identify. Studies have even recommended that PAJ should be integrated into routine care for anxiety to help improve people's quality of life.

It’s important to have a space to vent freely. In a journal, you can write down a list of everything causing stress without worrying about burdening your loved ones. Journal entries are a healthy way to privately dump out your thoughts.

If you don’t know where to start, ask a professional. Therapists often incorporate journaling into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The practice encourages people to analyze the harsh beliefs they hold about themselves. 

Research has shown that gratitude journaling, in particular, gives us a happiness boost. The dopamine levels in our brain increase which improves our mood, and even our sleeping habits

Language is a powerful tool — let your words be fuel. Reread what you’ve written, especially positive notes. With journaling, you can immerse yourself in self-love and self-compassion. And, in a lot of ways, journaling can help you take care of your mental health

8 tips to start journaling

Journaling about your anxiety will look slightly different for everyone. Here are some tips to help you start:

Closeup-on-a-man-writing-in-a-journal

1. Keep it simple

Don’t put pressure on yourself to journal for two hours. Try setting a timer for 10 minutes each morning. When the time is up, move on to something else. 

2. Make it a habit

Having a routine helps you stay organized.  Aim to journal at the same time every day. Having a set time will help you prioritize this new habit

3. Do what feels right

There's no rulebook when it comes to journaling. Your spelling, handwriting, and subject matter don't matter. You don’t need to follow templates or fill out a certain format.

4. Write on anything

For some, writing in a pretty journal makes them feel inspired. For others, it doesn't.

It doesn't matter what you're writing — or where — as long as you write. Feel free to journal in a notebook, on a computer, or using random scraps of paper and napkins. You can write with colorful pens, use stickers, draw, handwrite, or type out your thoughts.

The beauty of journaling is that you can tailor the process to whatever suits you. No matter how you practice journaling feelings, you'll better understand your emotions and how to navigate them.

5. Don't set your expectations too high

Remember, this isn't a healthcare professional who's helping you. This is you making journal entries about your anxiety. It's helpful but not the only way to take care of your mental health

Journaling won't solve all your problems, but it's a fantastic step to kickstart your journey toward building strength and resilience.

6. Ask yourself questions

Journaling for your mental health is an opportunity to learn about yourself. Along the way, pause and ask yourself some questions about your thoughts and emotions. Notice how your body feels while writing. Have you noticed any patterns? What have you learned about your anxiety? Asking questions can help you uncover your triggers or think of other strategies that'll help.

7. Get creative

This is your journal, so do whatever you please with it. Do you want to address your entries to anyone? Do you feel like doodling or drawing? You could try making it a bullet journal, or only write in bullet points — because who says you need to have full sentences? Design your journal in a way that's both meaningful and effective for you.

8. Find a comfortable space

A space where you feel mentally and physically comfortable will help the words come more easily. It'll put you at ease, limit distractions, and help you focus on writing down your negative emotions. Your space could be your bed, couch, car, or on the floor. Wherever you feel like you can relieve stress and worries, make it your special spot.

Effective journaling prompts to help you with anxiety

A blank page is intimidating. No wonder it takes us a long time to start on that weekly report for work. But don’t fret: that’s what writing prompts are for. 

Here's a list of anxiety journal prompts to help reframe your mindset and anything else weighing on your mind.

  1. If I could make a promise to myself, it would be…
  2. I’m so sick of…
  3. List 10 positive affirmations you can repeat when your anxiety spikes 
  4. What does your perfect day look like?
  5. Think of a time when you failed at something or made a mistake. What did you learn?
  6. Write a letter to your childhood self 

You can find more journal prompts online or buy a journal with suggestions on each page. Until you know what you like writing about, you can experiment with different writing styles and content types.

Young-Asian-Woman-Writing-Notes-In-Cafe

Different types of journaling

You've done a lot of learning about anxiety journalling. But just as you can practice writing exercises for anxiety, you can explore many other types of journaling. Your daily practice could be keeping anxiety diary entries, a gratitude journal, or simply brainstorming about your day or the future on paper. 

You can draw, type in your phone’s notes app or in a document on your computer, or handwrite journal entries. The more journaling practices you know, the better. They’re forms of self-care, fun hobbies, and much more.

Here's a quick list of other types of journaling for you to try:

  • Manifestation journaling: A manifestation journal is where you write everything you want to manifest in the coming weeks, months, or years. You fill those blank pages with your dreams, goals, and desires in life. 
  • Expressive writing: What strong emotions and feelings are clogging up your mind? Expressive writing is where you continuously write down your emotions without any filter and reflect on them afterward.
  • Thought diaries: Your thought diary helps you keep track of all your thoughts during the day and any that keep you awake at night. It's a way of tracking your mood, dreams, and goals. Doing so will help you understand yourself more and notice anything you want to improve.
  • Free writing: The name says it all. Free writing is writing without any boundaries or limits. You can set a timer, write whatever you feel in the moment, and let your creative juices flow. You aren't worried about grammar, the neatness of your writing, or any journal prompts.

Bottom line

The most important thing about journaling is to start. Where you choose to go from there doesn't matter because there isn't one way to learn how to journal for anxiety.

This quote may inspire you to begin journaling:

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak out. Be willing to be split open.”

Natalie Goldberg 

Anxiety journaling is a way to still your racing mind and calm your heart. You don't have to produce anything profound or revolutionary.

BetterUp is here to help you confront your feelings head-on so you can become your best, most vibrant self. We strive to help every individual unlock their potential, purpose, and passion.

That means caring for yourself and building mental fitness. Changing thought patterns is challenging, but it’s possible if you’re willing to do the work. We're here to support you every step of the way.

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Published March 9, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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