Somehow, writing down your thoughts seems to calm anxiety. The practice, known as journaling, of writing down thoughts, feelings, lists, gratitudes and other things has been shown in a number of studies to relieve anxiety.
What is journaling?
Journaling is simply the practice of taking a few minutes out each day to write things about your life – how your are feeling, what your are doing, what your plans are, what your are pleased about and so on. There is no set formula for what you should write … just write something every day.
Is it the same as keeping a diary?
Well … yes and no … traditionally, you write down in a diary what you did during the day, and maybe your thoughts and feelings about what has happened. Samuel Pepys and Queen Victoria are well-known historical diarist whose actions and thoughts are recorded for prosperity. Neither of them thought that they would ever be published, so they are both very open about their feelings. And that is what works best.
A journal is not intended to be read by anyone else. By keeping it personal to you, you can be honest and say what you feel. You don’t have to be concerned that your journal has neat writing, or spelt correctly, or even makes sense. You can just write what ever comes into your head.
How does it help with anxiety?
I have not been able to find any scientific explanation of how it works – it just does! There have been scientific studies demonstrating that journaling for a month (say) improves mental health in most people in a way that is measurable. Somehow, writing things down seems to clarify things in your mind. May it is a cathartic process (that is, in the same way that sharing your problems with someone seems to relieve the stress of it all). We don’t know. All that we do know is that it works.
How do I start journaling?
Decide how you are going to keep your journal – maybe you buy a notebook and write everything, maybe you type it into your computer, or maybe you dictate it into your phone. Whatever you are happy with. Then choose a time of day that works for you – some time that you can regularly spend a few minutes capturing your thoughts – first thing in the morning, sitting on the train on your morning commute, or maybe in the evening before you settle down – anytime will do, so long as you can do it regularly.
What do I write?
Again, there are no set ways of doing things – its what works for you. Here are a few ideas. Pick a couple to start with and see what works best for you:
- What’s been good? What has happened that you’ve enjoyed, that your grateful for, or you hope might happen again.
- How are you feeling? Write down the words that your feel best describes your mood for the day – good, bad or neutral.
- What are you worried about? Are there things coming up that worry you? If so, what is it that your are concerned about? Write them down.
- What are your best hopes for the next day / the week ahead / the next year? If everything were to go your way – what would life be like for you?
- What are the things you have to do next? List down everything that you have to do in the next day or week?
- Have you noticed any patterns in your life? Are there particular times, events, people, TV programmes, activities etc. that are happening when anxiety strikes? What do you do to relieve the anxiety? Did it work well?
- What would you do today if you knew you couldn’t fail?
What if I’m no good at writing?
That doesn’t matter either. It doesn’t matter if you can’t spell, or if your writing looks bad or you can’t write sentences that flow nicely. You are not going to publish your journal. No one else if going to read it. Even you don’t have to read it (although you can if you want to).
You can write sentences, or just a list of bullet points. You can cross things out, if you think of a better way to say it. You can scribble notes in the margins, draw pictures or draw diagrams. It’s just whatever you want.
How long should I write for?
Again – there is no right or wrong answer – 5 minutes, 10 minutes or half an hour maybe. Just do what feels right for you.
There are lots of things you can do yourself to help with anxiety, depression and other issues – only one of which is journalling. If you cannot manage your anxiety on your own, you may like to consider getting help. In my clinic in Fleet, I help people with anxiety. I use solution-focused hypnotherapy to help them get back in control of their lives and get rid of the unwanted symptoms.
Photo by Ashlyn Ciara on Unsplash
Medical News Today, How to Journal for Anxiety
University of Rochester Medical Center, Journaling for Mental Health