Journaling: A Great Tool For Coping With Anxiety

Journaling For Anxiety And Stress Relief: How To Get Started

Journaling by a tree
Journaling can be an effective tool for managing stress and anxiety.. peter zelei/E+/Getty Images

Journaling can be an extremely helpful tool for stress relief. (Read more about the research on journaling and stress.)  One of the ways that journaling can relieve stress is by helping you work through your anxious feelings.  This is because feelings of anxiety can lead to stress and rumination when left unchecked, but some of the roots of your anxiety can be minimized through a little-focused examination. Journaling can be a powerful tool for examining and shifting thoughts from anxious and ruminative to empowered and action-oriented.

The following plan can help you to write your own ticket out of a place of stress, and find relief within a few minutes. (Note: if you feel you need more help with your anxiety than an article can provide, talk with your doctor; there are other options available.  You can also find help dealing with symptoms of anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder.) Ready to get started? Grab a pen (or open a document) and here we go!

Start by journaling for 5 to 15 minutes. Write about what's on your mind, and what's bothering you:

  1. Write about your concerns, writing for several minutes until you feel you have written what needs to be said, but haven’t delved into a mode of rumination. You may prefer a computer, a journal, or just a pad and paper; if you are using paper, please skip a line or two for every line you use—this will be handy later.
  2. Detail what is happening right now, describing the events that are currently causing difficulties. Keep in mind that, with anxiety, sometimes it isn’t what is currently happening that is causing stress, but rather your concerns about what could happen from here. If this is the case for you, it’s okay; you can write about what is currently happening and just note that the only part that is really stressful is the possibility of what could happen next. (This, in fact, may be a realization that brings some stress relief in itself.)
  3. Next, write about your concerns and fears, and write in chronological order. In other words, start with one of the stressors you are contending with in the present, and explore what you think will happen next, then write what you fear will happen after that.
  4. Write how this would affect you.

Now that you have your thoughts in order, see what you can do to relieve some of the stress and anxiety within. 

Journaling Your Way To A Better Frame Of Mind

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Writing about your concerns and fears can be helpful in getting these thoughts out of your head and into the open. Next, re-read and re-think what you just wrote.

  1. When you look at what is concerning you right now, explore your other options. Would it be possible for things to be different right now? Is there something that you could do to change your circumstances or your thoughts about your circumstances?
  2. When you write about what you are concerned could happen next, think critically and try to argue with yourself. Write anything that calls into question whether or not this is truly a concern. How likely is it that this will happen, and how do you know? Are you sure? If what you fear actually does come to pass, is there a possibility that it could be less of a negative experience than you think it would be? Could it actually be a neutral or even positive event? Is there a way you could use your circumstances to create a better outcome for yourself, using what you have available to you and the potential changes that could take place? Is there a change that could occur that you could create that would be even better? You get the idea. Challenging your fears can often help you to relieve anxiety because you see that things either are less likely to happen than you think they are, or are not as bad as you think they could be.
  3. For each fear or concern, try to write at least one (but preferably more) way in which you could think about it differently. Generate a new story for yourself, a new set of possibilities, and write them on paper next to the fears that are in your head right now.
  4. It can be helpful to examine your cognitive distortions to see how you might benefit from changing habitual stress-inducing thought patterns.

Now that you have come up with new ways of looking at things, let's examine ways to use journaling to take action to relieve stress. 

Action-Focused Journaling

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Processing your emotions on paper can be quite helpful. Here is how to continue processing and move into a place where you are ready to take action to face the stressful challenges of life. As you write, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

  1. Look at what might happen. Now think about the biggest challenges you’ve faced and overcome. Looking at your strongest, wisest moments, do you think you could use that same strength and wisdom to prevail in this potential challenge as well? What do you think you could learn from it, and in what ways do you think you would gain strength as you face these new obstacles? Thinking about your strengths and your best moments can help you to remember that, while you may not enjoy the current circumstances you face, you have the strength to handle what comes. You may find new strengths you didn't know you had!
  2. Assuming that what you fear actually does happen, what would you do? You don’t have to create a full plan, but jot down the resources you would utilize and the next steps you’d take. This takes away the fear of the unknown; if you know that you would have resources available to you should you need them, your mind is more likely to stay away from the worst-case scenarios toward which we all sometimes gravitate.
  3. Come up with at least one thing you can do right now that would improve your life and prepare you for what you fear. This could be to build your resources by reaching out to friends and strengthening your relationships. You could build skills that you could use now, but would also come in handy if your fears were realized. You could work on creating an effective stress management plan so you may be more emotionally resilient if you face a big challenge and need to endure some extra stress. Putting your energy toward doing something can help you move out of a place of anxiety and toward a place of empowerment. Then even if you don’t need them, you have resources that can help you in your life now, and you’ve distracted yourself in the process. Coming up with a list of such possibilities is the first step.
  4. You may want to look at more tips on resilience, and find resilience-building tips as well.

Remember that some issues require more help than an article can provide, and it is important to seek help if you need it. That said, this simple journaling technique can provide a tool that can be used in all types of situations to help manage anxiety and stress in life.

For additional stress management strategies, see these ongoing resources for stress relief and take advantage of what this site has to offer.

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