Journaling describes writing down one’s thoughts and feelings. Evidence suggests journaling can be a useful strategy to help combat anxiety, reduce stress, and support mental health.

Racing thoughts and overwhelming emotions may flood people’s minds in this fast-paced world. As a result, these can paralyze people and hinder them from functioning and performing their daily activities.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in the US, affecting 18.1% of the population age 18 and older.

Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

This article looks at how journaling can benefit people with anxiety and provides journaling tips.

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Journal writing, or simply journaling, involves writing down one’s thoughts and emotions on paper.

A person can spend 5–15 minutes or more writing whatever is on their mind, like a running record of their thoughts at the moment.

Since people can only write one thing at a time, it forces them to slow down, organize their thoughts, and focus on them one at a time. Journaling can provide greater clarity on concerns, help identify patterns, and help recognize the emotions accompanying their anxiety.

It is essential to recognize what causes anxiety and stress in oneself. Journaling may include a description of the current situation and the possible outcomes or scenarios that could occur.

Health professionals may recommend journaling alongside other treatment methods for anxiety, such as counseling or medications.

Read more from our mental health hub on other ways to manage anxiety symptoms.

Journaling offers numerous benefits for a person’s overall health. Writing in a journal may be a valuable tool to process, manage, and reduce anxiety. It can also help a person:

  • lessen feelings of distress
  • improve their mood and overall well-being
  • reduce stress
  • recognize anxiety-causing triggers
  • become aware of unhealthy thought patterns
  • challenge their thoughts
  • prioritize and understand their fears, problems, and concerns
  • plan ways to resolve issues

Several studies support journaling, its specific benefits, and how it helps reduce anxiety as a management technique.

Prevents and calms anxiety

Journaling can help people learn about the situations and fears that trigger their sudden or chronic anxiety.

A 2018 study found that emotion-focused journaling decreased anxiety, depressive symptoms, and distress. The study concluded that journaling improved the well-being of patients with medical conditions in just 1 month.

Lessens mental distress

Studies link less mental distress with writing about one’s feelings and current emotional state.

A 2021 study of people with advanced cancer showed that mindful gratitude journaling positively affects psychological distress and quality of life.

Associated with well-being

A 2020 review associated gratitude with several well-being indicators, including life satisfaction, happiness, and stress.

Further research associates gratitude with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, and build strong relationships.

Helps with depression

Processing thoughts through journaling rather than keeping them inside can benefit people with depression.

A 2021 undergraduate study found that using an informative journaling app reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression among young adults.

Improves stress management

Stress is a response to a perceived threat, while anxiety is the body’s reaction to the stress. If a person does not manage or treat their anxiety, stress can accumulate, linger, and affect their mental, physical, and emotional health.

Journaling is an effective stress management tool for the impact of stressors. In turn, this can help a person manage their physical stressors and emotions.

Research from 2019 suggests that writing about a past failure, especially a failure that one found to be particularly stressful, may be related to altered neural processing in the mid-cingulate cortex. This area of the brain is crucial to processing negative emotions.

Helps immune function

An older study demonstrates that expressive writing about traumatic, stressful, or emotional events can strengthen the immune response.

Research has also shown journaling to improve:

  • lung and liver function
  • blood pressure
  • mood
  • depressive symptoms
  • pschological well-being

Below are some helpful tips for people who want to begin journaling and incorporating it into their routine alongside other methods.

Stick to a habit

People can benefit from journaling regularly. Choosing a particular place and setting aside a few minutes to journal daily can help develop this habit.

Make it accessible

Keeping a pen and paper handy is crucial to encouraging regular journaling. A person can also opt to journal on their smartphones if they feel comfortable doing so.

Do what feels right

There is no right or wrong way to journal. The most important part is that a person expresses their thoughts and emotions.

People may begin journaling using a pen and paper since it may allow more thoughtful processing. However, they can choose whatever is more convenient and comfortable for them. For example, writing in a customized anxiety journal, on a scrap of paper or notepad, or typing or recording a memo on a smartphone.

Utilize journal prompts

Using prompts can help a person kickstart their writing and make connections as they journal. These ideas can help a person focus on what to write about. A person can use the same prompt or choose one that matches their needs at the moment from a list of prompts.

Alternatively, a person can purchase a journal that comes with a set of prompts, access free journal prompts online, or download a journal app with prompts.

Write everything that comes to mind

A person should consider freewriting or writing about anything and everything that comes to mind. They should try doing it without censoring or restricting themselves.

To encourage a free flow of words, they can set a time limit and keep writing until the time is up. After they finish writing, they can reread their entry to gain insights from their thoughts.

Explore other modes

Aside from writing, people can express themselves through other modes such as doodling, drawing, poetry, songwriting, or bullet journaling.

Journaling does not need a set structure to allow ideas to flow more freely.

Track thought patterns

A person can make it a habit to reflect, challenge, and change their thought patterns into more appropriate ones. Keeping a thought record or thought diary can be helpful for this goal. Therapists use this practice in cognitive behavioral therapy.

A thought record may contain some of the following:

  • situations
  • worries
  • feelings
  • recognized thought patterns
  • alternative thoughts based on reality

A person receiving suitable treatment coupled with strategies and tools such as journaling can improve their relationships, quality of life, and overall well-being.

A person may benefit from journaling more than other techniques or vice versa. It is important to work with a health professional to find the best method to help reduce anxiety.

Journaling can be a helpful tool for people experiencing anxiety. There is no single way to approach journaling. A person can do what they find is comfortable and convenient for them.

While journaling can be helpful, some people may require professional help. For help dealing with issues, consider consulting with a doctor or counselor.

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