When it comes to anxiety, everyone seems to have a quick fix or all natural remedy they’re eager to share. Try spraying lavender on your pillow, drink chamomile tea, play with a fidget spinner! It’s safe to say if you have anxiety, you’ve probably heard advice like that repeated to you.
Another common piece of advice for anxiety sufferers is to turn to journaling. Unlike some of the other things I mentioned above, that advice has been proven to work. There are now online and mobile apps that people can use as digital journals. Penzu, created by Alexander Mimran for example, is a personal journal in the cloud. More than two million people trust Penzu with their private thoughts.
If you’re a writer, this idea to help ease your anxiety might be one of your favorites! Let’s take a look at why journaling can help with anxiety.
What is Journaling?
Journaling can mean sitting down with a pencil, eraser and cute notebook and writing out whatever is on your mind. For those of us who are old-fashioned, this method can often seem to be the best fit. There’s nothing like drinking some hot tea and staring out a window on a rainy day as you write all your deepest thoughts.
Or, if your handwriting isn’t quite up to par, journaling can be done by typing away on your laptop. There are also many journal apps, such as Day One or Penzu, which you can download either on your computer or phone, that will prompt you to write daily. Both are great options
Journaling can also be done with long-winded entries, where you go into great detail about how you’re feeling. You can do it daily or sporadically. Or you can write shorter, more concise entries, simply jotting down some quick thoughts, updates and emotions.
Some of us enjoy telling stories in their full glory, while others just don’t have enough time to sit down and write every day. Whatever fits you best is what you should get into the habit of doing. It’s the habit that counts. As long as you’re consistent in how often you write, then it doesn’t matter if you cover ten pages or one, or whether you type or freehand your posts.
Therapy can be so useful, freeing, and self-exploratory. But not everyone can afford it. When you can, it is a safe space to vent to someone other than your friends, who may, let’s face it, be a little tired of listening to you. Well, journaling not only is free, but it also can be a space where you get all your thoughts out as well.
Writing in a journal is a way to transfer all of your thoughts, feelings, confusions, and pain from your brain to an outside source, paper. When you write these things down, it serves as a form of therapy as you’re getting all of the messy stuff out into the open and no longer having to keep it all in.
“Letting go of the things you bottle up inside is akin to therapy, so if you journal in that way, it can be therapeutic,” Mimran said.
It also helps you to work through problems or painful emotions. By seeing everything physically laid out in front of you, you can read your ways of thinking back, and often find a new perspective you may not have noticed before actually spelling them out. It’s a way to increase your self-awareness. In this way, journaling also works as therapy, as a therapist’s job is to help you see things differently in order to cope with them.
“It’s a unique medium for personal thoughts, unlike photos, videos, blog posts, and others. It’s a private space where you can let go and tell the truth. Reading them back to yourself is magical. Journaling also happens to be a cathartic process, one that helps you understand your thoughts and sort through tough times,” said Mimran, the creator of Penzu.
Helps With Stress
Another benefit of journaling is that it helps you organize your thoughts and relieve stress. By writing down to do lists or laying out your busy day ahead, you can better learn to manage all of the stressful events that are sure to come your way.
“I think everyone should journal. Especially with the stressful busy lives we all have, we need to take time for ourselves to reflect and record what is happening,” said Mimran, creator of Penzu.
For example, by creating lists and checking items off as you accomplish them, you will not only gain a sense of satisfaction each time you add a little check mark, but you’ll also be able to alleviate the anxiety surrounding each task.
The same works for stresses other than just full schedules as well. As you journal, you can reveal what is bothering you, weighing you down and causing you to pull your hair out and can help calm you as you release the issues onto paper.
Work Through Struggles
Similar to helping with stress, journaling can help a person work through their struggles. As said, actually spelling out your emotions can help you frame them differently and move on from them more quickly.
Dr. James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal says “When we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable.” By doing this, you are more able to come to peace with an issue and work through it because of this.
In fact, in one study at the University of Haifa in Israel, teens who wrote blogs about their emotional and social difficulties showed a significant improvement in stress levels compared to those who wrote only about general topics.
There are a few ideas for how to use journaling to work through struggles. First, you can write down everything that’s upsetting or worrying you before bed to remove those negative thoughts from your mind. You may even end up falling asleep faster because of it!
Or, try writing for ten or so minutes straight all about one specific problem you’re facing. Then, read your array of words back to yourself and identify the key aspects of the obstacle. Analyze what you learn and come up with ways to solve each facet of the issue. Then, write for another ten minutes on your new thoughts after coming up with potential solutions. Your mind will be clearer and an idea on how to fix the issue may just appear.
Track Your Progress
Journaling doesn’t just offer relief to anxiety, but can also serve as a way for you to view the happy progress you’ve made through your journey. When looking back at old entries, your writings may seem grim and dark. But as time goes on, hopefully, you’ll find more peace from your anxieties and your entries will become more joyful and full of life.
Reading through your progression will be encouraging and comforting. It will release happy endorphins needed to continue down the road and write even more.
At the same time, journaling will also keep records of your progress and how you felt in certain situations. So, in the future, if similar anxieties surface, you can go back and remember your prior feelings and how you dealt with them. This will help you see that whatever anxiety you’re going through is manageable and often irrational, just as it was the first time you wrote about it.
“Having past entries to reflect on has given me incredible perspective. Reading through entries from years ago is a great reminder of where I was and where I am now,” said Mimran.
Journaling is a history book into your own life.
Dream Big, Baby!
Anxiety can be summed up as fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, fear of someone feeling differently about something you said or something you did than you intended. To combat those fears, try focusing on your dreams, goals, and aspirations. Pay attention to all the good in your life and all you have to be thankful for and slowly, these fears and anxieties won’t be as important anymore.
According to Arianna Huffington in her book Thrive, “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.”
Sure, accomplishing our dreams and goals is a big unknown, but writing down and looking at positives and focusing instead on gratitude will be much more beneficial than staying stuck in your fears. For each anxiety you feel, write it down and next to it, write a dream or something you’re grateful for that you can replace it with. Reading these happy thoughts back is guaranteed to free you from the anxieties you were previously trapped in.
Based on all of the above, it’s safe to say that even if you don’t experience anxiety in your everyday life, journaling can only serve as a beneficial addition to your days. From finding the beauty in things through gratitude to relieving stress, journaling is a positive habit to get into no matter what. If other methods recommended to you for anxiety relief just don’t seem to be working, grab a pen, notebook and get to writing!
Photo credit: Unsplash by Giulia Bertelli