Journaling Techniques

Journaling for Anxiety: How it Works and Why it Helps

Journaling for anxiety can be an easy and effective way to better understand and decrease anxiety symptoms. Through the act of writing, you can release pent-up emotions and work through difficult feelings, leading to a greater sense of calm and clarity.

Journaling to manage anxiety symptoms is easy and effective. Journaling not only relieves stress but can also help people understand themselves and their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors better. In this post, we’ll explore how journaling for anxiety works and why it helps.

Understanding Anxiety and Its Symptoms

Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the U.S. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 6.8 million adults in the U.S. live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and millions more are diagnosed with other types of anxiety disorders.

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at times. Living with an anxiety disorder is different from occasional anxiousness. An anxiety disorder can cause repeated and intense feelings of fear and worry that are difficult to control. Many factors, including trauma, family history, chronic illness, and genetics, can cause anxiety.

Whatever the root of a person’s anxiety disorder, stress is a common denominator among people with anxiety. People living with anxiety don’t necessarily have more stress than others, but because of contributing factors, they may be less able to cope with stress the way others can.

People with anxiety disorders often avoid people, places, and events they think might trigger anxiety. Unfortunately, avoidance can lead to isolation, loneliness, and more severe symptoms.

Symptoms of anxiety may include:

  • Feeling nervous, tense, or fearful for no apparent reason
  • Sweating, trembling, shaking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Digestive upsets
  • Obsessive worrying
  • Feeling tired or weak

If your anxiety is interfering with daily life, preventing you from meeting responsibilities, it may be time to see a medical professional. Anxiety treatment can help you learn healthy coping skills and reduce your negative symptoms.

A scene of journaling for anxiety with a cup of tea, a computer, and a notebook

Why Journal About Anxiety?

People diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns are often encouraged to include journaling in their self-care routine. 

Studies have shown that journaling can help people manage anxiety and reduce symptoms, especially as part of a treatment program. Journaling as expressive writing can also relieve stress.

Why? Journaling provides a record of your emotions. Through journaling, you can better track patterns in your behavior that can lead to positive change. Your journal can also reveal how you’ve changed over time and which coping strategies were the most successful.

Many different styles of journals can work for anxiety journaling:

  • In a reflective journal, you write about your life experiences and what you have learned from them.  
  • A mindfulness journal helps you stay focused on the moment instead of obsessing about the “what ifs,” a common symptom of anxiety.
  • A gratitude journal is a daily record of what you’re grateful for. You can write about the best thing that happened that day or keep a running list of the good things happening in your life.
  • A mood journal allows you to track your moods on a more regular basis so you can learn to identify triggers and patterns in how you feel.

In addition to different styles, you can also explore different journal writing techniques. Stream of consciousness writing, bulleting, brainstorming, and listing are some of the techniques you can explore when keeping a journal. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to choose just one type of journal or writing technique. All of these approaches to journaling can help reduce and better understand anxiety symptoms. 

What to Write About When Journaling For Anxiety

There really are no rules limiting what you can write about. A journal about anxiety focuses on that issue, but mental health concerns affect every aspect of life. You may choose to write about any of the following topics and still gain insight into managing anxiety symptoms:

  • Accomplishments
  • Grief
  • Motivations
  • Regrets
  • Relationships
  • Personal or work goals
  • Special memories or difficult memories
  • Important life lessons
  • Hobbies

Just don’t let all the options overwhelm you. If you feel journaling for anxiety could be a helpful practice, jump in and get started. One of the best features of journaling is that you can write anytime, anywhere, and in any way that’s right for you. 

The Benefits of Journaling for Anxiety

Keeping a journal may seem like an old-fashioned idea, but journaling is one of the best ways of dealing with stress and anxiety. Just 15-20 minutes of journaling each day can help you experience some of the extraordinary journaling benefits, including:

1. Physical Benefits

Journaling is a sedate, reflective activity, so many people are surprised to learn that keeping a journal can provide physical benefits. 

To start, reducing stress is good for your physical health. A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that writing about stressful experiences can help ease the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Studies suggest that expressive writing can boost the immune system. A stronger immune system helps decrease illness incidents and heal wounds. A study published by Cambridge University Press showed that spending 15 to 20 minutes a day for three to five days a week writing in a journal could potentially provide the following benefits:

  • Improved liver function
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved lung function
  • Improved memory
  • Better sports performance

People with cancer, chronic pain, and insomnia may also benefit from journaling for anxiety.

2. Mental Health Benefits

Journaling is an expressive coping strategy. Expressive strategies help you process thoughts and feelings by releasing them. In the case of journaling, you release them onto the page through journaling about feelings.

One study on journaling found that consistent online journaling for 12 weeks significantly reduced stress and helped participants build greater emotional resilience.

3. Emotional Benefits

Journaling is a mindfulness practice that helps people remain present and keep their perspective as they write about distressing memories, incidents, or feelings. When you are in the present moment, you are less likely to worry about the future or replay the past, which can induce anxiety.

By providing a safe opportunity for emotional catharsis, emotional journaling also reduces activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotions. Writing in a journal, whether you’re using a journaling prompt or just jotting down your thoughts, can help you maintain a balanced mood.

4. Stress and Anxiety Management

Journaling about anxiety allows you to clarify your anxious feelings. You might write about specific emotional responses you experienced during the day or focus on things you’re grateful for. Gratitude writing can help relieve stress and allow people to focus on what brings them happiness instead of what triggers anxiety.

5. Better Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

Journaling for anxiety can also help you feel more confident in your decisions. Journaling about fear and writing down feelings is a way to clear your mind so you can focus on the pros and cons of a situation instead of reacting emotionally. Use your journal to view a situation from multiple angles without fear of consequences.

How to Begin Journaling for Anxiety

The first step in journaling for anxiety is to decide on what type of journal you want to use and what style of journaling appeals to you most. Sticking with one type or style is not necessary, but doing so may help simplify the process when you first begin.

A traditional, blank paper journal and a nice writing pen are standard, but journaling with an e-device makes it convenient to carry your journal with you at all times. Using the advantages of technology, like a journaling app, can help you develop a regular journaling habit for the greatest benefits.

1. Set a Regular Journaling Schedule

When journaling about anxiety, you could try to write spontaneously whenever anxious feelings bubble up. However, developing a regular journaling habit can also be helpful. 

Plan to spend 10 to 15 minutes writing every day, but if you also need or want to journal at other times, there’s no reason not to. Just make sure to maintain a regular schedule as well.

Making your journaling habit too complicated or restrictive may leave you feeling frustrated. As you become more adept at the practice, you’ll determine the best methods for you.

2. Write Down Your Worries

If you want to start journaling about anxiety, don’t avoid what makes you anxious. Your journal is a safe, private place to express yourself. The goal of writing about your worries is to decrease their impact. Writing about your anxieties helps you examine them and gives you time to engage other healthy coping skills.

3. Track Your Emotions and Anxiety Triggers

To better understand the source of anxiety, try to notice the shift in your emotions as the day progresses. Notice how you feel in the morning, and if your mood changes throughout the day, write about what made your feelings change. 

If you suddenly feel anxious, use your journal to examine your triggers. Was there a person, place, or event that caused you to feel anxious? If so, write about what you could do to help yourself cope with your feelings of anxiety.

Keeping a list of your anxiety triggers, including information like whether you were hungry, tired, or sick, will give you a database of sorts to improve your self-understanding.

4. Reflect on Your Journal Entries

Writing has many benefits, but you can get even more value from journaling about anxiety when you take the time to reflect on past journal entries. Looking back through your journal entries, you may notice negative thinking patterns contributing to anxious feelings. 

Reflecting also allows you to see when you used healthy coping skills and how they changed the outcome of a situation. When you’re facing a situation you’ve handled successfully, looking back at your journal can boost your confidence and show you how capable you are.

5. Resist Censoring Yourself

Don’t interrupt a critical train of thought by correcting your spelling or worrying about correct grammar usage. If the idea of some misspelled words in your journal bothers you, you can always return to the entry to make corrections later. Stopping and fixing typos or worrying about the perfect word choice can block the valuable insights your brain is trying to convey.

6. Recognize Your Progress

Journaling provides a written record of your self-growth, so be proud of how far you have come. When you successfully manage your anxiety symptoms, credit yourself for the progress. Acknowledging that you’re becoming more aware of and fulfilling your own needs will boost your confidence and minimize anxiety.

7. Commit to Honesty

Learning about yourself, your emotional habits, and your anxiety triggers isn’t always an easy or comfortable journey. Writing in a journal requires a level of honesty that can sometimes be difficult to manage. 

However, honesty is necessary to reap the benefits of journaling. Remember that no one else is going to read your journal. The things you have a hard time writing about are probably the topics you need to address the most.

8. Be Creative

Don’t limit yourself to just writing words. Write, draw, paint, use memes, photos, inspirational quotes, and anything else that helps you express yourself meaningfully. Your journal is a record of your feelings, challenges, and solutions to those challenges. 

If you want to write your own song lyrics or poems or use stream-of-consciousness writing one day and bullet journaling techniques the next, that’s up to you. Creativity can help you overcome mental barriers and access your inner thoughts and feelings.

9. Keep Expectations Realistic

Journaling can be a powerful tool for managing anxiety symptoms, but looking for insight through writing is not magic. Don’t expect to have major life-changing epiphanies every time you write a journal entry. 

You may need some time to let go of your inhibitions before you start writing freely and honestly. Keep trying, but don’t use journaling as a substitute for mental health care. If anxiety makes it difficult to live fully, there’s no shame in getting professional help.

10. Use a Journaling App

A journal app can help you break the ice when you first start journaling. Journaling apps like the Day One provide introspective journaling prompts and journaling reminders when it’s time to write. People who are new to journaling and old pros alike will find loads of inspiration from Day One. 

11. Share Your Insights with a Mental Health Professional

If you are struggling with anxiety or other mental health concerns, seek appropriate treatment. Journaling about anxiety effectively reduces stress-related anxiety, but it should not be a substitute for professional mental health care. If you’re already seeing a therapist for anxiety, journaling may even be a technique they recommend. 

Even when you use journaling as part of a comprehensive treatment program, you can still decide whether to share your journal. You can talk about any insights you’ve gained without disclosing specific information you prefer to keep private.

30 Journaling Prompts to Reduce Anxiety

You’ll have plenty to write about on some days. On other days, you may stare at the blank page and have no idea where to start. Journal prompts can jumpstart your journaling practice, even when you have nothing to write about.

Writing prompts can help you get to the heart of difficult topics when you’d rather avoid them. Even prompts that seem simple can lead to moments of deep self-discovery if you’re willing to be open and honest as you write.

Consider these anxiety journaling prompts to start your writing practice:  

  1. How am I feeling right now? What words would I use to describe how I’m feeling?
  2. Where do I currently feel tension in my body, and how could I release it?
  3. What thoughts are going through my mind right now?
  4. What is my anxiety trying to prepare me for?
  5. Right now, I am challenged by … and supported by ….
  6. What happened the last time my anxiety spiraled out of control?
  7. What is something I need to let go of?
  8. What does my perfect day look like?
  9. List 10 positive affirmations I can repeat when anxiety symptoms spike.
  10. Fill in the blank: Today I am grateful for…..
  11. Describe a time when I felt completely comfortable and free of anxiety.
  12. Write a letter to my younger self with advice on coping with anxiety.
  13. Describe what my anxiety looks like.
  14. How can this uncomfortable experience help me become a better person?
  15. What is something I look forward to every day?
  16. What is something I’m looking forward to in the near future?
  17. Write about my victory for the day, no matter how large or small.
  18. What compliments have I gotten recently, big or small?
  19. Write a letter to my inner critic, and tell them why they help or harm me.
  20. List the three things I dread the most and what might result if they happened.
  21. What would change if I fully believed I was capable of doing anything?
  22. What is the best advice I have ever received about anything?
  23. If I can’t change a triggering situation, what can I do to maintain emotional balance?
  24. What are my mental wellness goals, and what can I do to achieve them?
  25. What would it feel like to forgive myself?
  26. Fill in the blank: I forgive myself for….
  27. What are 10 strengths I possess?
  28. If I could be anywhere in the world right now, I would be….
  29. What is the first thing I think of in the morning, and does it support my mental health goals? If not, what would be a more beneficial thought to start the day with?
  30. What are some self-care activities I can do when I feel anxiety rising?

Tip: Don’t get stuck thinking that you must stay on point when using journaling prompts. Let the prompt take you where you need to go. One goal of journaling for anxiety is tapping into your unconscious mind and revealing ideas or patterns you may be unaware of.

Be sure to check out more journaling prompts for mental health to explore more questions for your journal.

Wrapping Up: The Positive Impacts of Journaling For Anxiety

No matter what’s at the root of your anxiety or how the feelings manifest, journaling about anxiety can help improve your physical and mental health. 

Journaling has positive impacts for reducing anxiety by:

  • Working to decrease negative thoughts
  • Helping you recognize your anxiety triggers
  • Improving awareness of unhealthy thought patterns
  • Helping to resolve past issues
  • Reducing stress
  • Regulating emotions
  • Improving self-awareness
  • Offering newfound inspiration
  • Increasing confidence
  • Helping stop the cycle of brooding/obsessive thinking
  • Helping you recognize your progress and growth

Journaling about anxiety can be an easy and effective way to better understand and decrease anxiety symptoms. There are so many approaches to journal writing; everyone can find a method that fits their personality and their schedule. 

About the Author

Hannah Van Horn, MCMHC, LPC-C, is a mental health professional who specializes in helping trauma survivors navigate their healing journey. She is an advocate for making mental health accessible for all through written and digital content as well as face-to-face counseling services.

A photo of author Hannah Van Horn, MCMHC, LPC-C

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If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). If you are located outside the United States, call your local emergency line immediately.

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