If you live with anxiety, you’re far from alone. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 40 million adults — that’s nearly 20% of the population — have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety looks different for all of us. Some people experience mild situational anxiety, while others suffer from full-blown panic attacks. If you’re anxious, there are a lot of tried and true methods that can help ease that anxiety, from seeing a therapist, meditating, and adopting a
healthier lifestyle to giving medication a try if your doctor thinks it’s the right option for you.
Another excellent way to relieve anxiety? Journaling.
How journaling helps with anxiety
Journaling is not new. For centuries, people have taken pen to paper to record their life experiences, to get their feelings out on paper, and to organize their thoughts. While it’s unlikely that people were journaling in the name of mental health benefits back in the 1800s, they were getting them anyway: There’s a great deal of research to back up what many have long suspected, which is that journaling lowers our stress levels, makes us feel happier, and yes — reduces anxiety.
Essentially, by removing anxious thoughts from your brain and putting them on paper, a lot of people feel less anxious almost immediately. This act helps organize thoughts, gives you a place to put them, and might make you realize that your thoughts are irrational, or at least not as bad as you thought they were.
Best journaling techniques for anxiety
There are a lot of different journaling techniques that can be used to help reduce anxiety. These include:
Also called stream of consciousness writing, free writing allows you to get all your thoughts out on paper. You may have a lot of “aha” moments while you free-write as you realize that the things you’re anxious about are a figment of your imagination, or you may have none at all but still feel better because your thoughts are no longer stuck in your head.
Silk + Sonder closely aligns with the bullet journal, or “bujo” style of journaling. Bullet journaling helps with anxiety because it helps you get organized and zero in on what’s really important and what long-term goals you want to focus on. Bullet journaling also encourages you to live a healthier lifestyle, especially if your habit tracker focuses on healthy lifestyle components, which can help with anxiety.
Worst case scenario journaling
At first glance, worst case scenario journaling might seem like the last thing an anxious person should do. But one of the first things many therapists ask anxious people to do is vocalize what would happen if the thing they’re anxious about actually happened. By writing out what would happen if your worst case scenario came true — you lose your job, that friend really is mad at you, you mess up a big presentation at school — you may realize that things are not as bad as they seem and be able to move on.
A lot of people are intimidated by the idea of free-writing, in which case prompts can be a useful tool. And there are a lot of prompts out there geared toward anxious thinking including prompts that ask you to describe your ideal day and imagine your anxiety as a monster (yes, really!)
Make a worry list
A bit more structured than free-writing, the idea with a worry list is to list out every single thing you’re worried about. That way, you have a place to “put” your worries — and they’re no longer in your head.
Try a mood tracker
A mood tracker is typically a component of a bullet journal, but it can also be used independently in the form of a print-out. A mood tracker helps you draw connections between what actions, foods, activities, people — the list goes on — are correlated with different moods. By using a mood tracker, you can more easily figure out if certain foods tend to make you feel anxious afterward (sugar is a big one for a lot of people) or even if some people tend to bring out our anxiety. Identifying where these patterns come from can help us eliminate anxiety triggers.