5 Types of Journaling Prompts for Anxiety

Journaling prompts for anxiety can help you process your emotions and recognize and maybe even understand what makes you anxious.

Everyone feels anxious and stressed now and then. In fact, anxiety disorders affect 1-in-3 people. Anxiety is part of life, but it can interfere with daily living for some people. For many, fear and anxiety can disrupt activities like work, school, or just enjoying quality time with loved ones. Anxiety disorders often require treatment from a mental health professional. 

Whether your anxiety concerns need professional support or you’re looking for ways to improve your coping strategies, journaling can be an important part of your overall self-care plan. Using anxiety journaling prompts can help you get the most from your journaling practice. 

How Journaling Helps with Anxiety

Journaling is writing down your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It’s similar to keeping a traditional diary, but diaries are typically more of a record of the day’s events. Journals focus more on how you feel about the day’s events — how you reacted or what you learned. 

Keeping a journal to help manage anxiety can reveal causes of stress you may not have recognized before. One of the benefits of journaling is that it calms the mind. Because you can only write one word at a time, writing forces your mind to slow down and organize its thoughts. 

Journaling may allow you to identify behavioral patterns and help you clarify important issues. Many mental health professionals recommend that clients keep a journal as part of their treatment program.

Does journaling work? The results of journaling for anxiety are well documented. One study on positive affect journaling showed that people with medical conditions felt an improvement in their overall well-being with as little as one month of journaling. Another study on the effects of expressive writing concluded that journal writing is an effective stress management tool. 

The benefits of journaling for anxiety include:

  • Reducing stress
  • Challenging ingrained thoughts and beliefs
  • Providing insight into resolving problems
  • Recognizing unproductive patterns
  • Recognizing anxiety triggers
  • Improveming mood

Managing stress is especially important for people who experience anxiety. Unmanaged stress can further affect your mental, emotional, and physical health. 

Anxiety journal prompts can help journalers focus their writing on the issues that directly affect their mental health. Anxiety sometimes makes knowing what you’re feeling or thinking difficult outside of those initial anxious reactions. Journaling for anxiety, specifically, provides an opportunity to release emotions in a safe and private space. 

Once you’ve expressed yourself freely, you can reflect on your journal entry to learn more about yourself and improve your emotional awareness. 

A person writes in their journal

Getting Started with Journaling

Simply put: journaling is one of the simplest and most enjoyable things you can do for your mental health. And getting started is easy! All you need is a notebook and a pen or your laptop or tablet. Using a journaling app like Day One can help you stay inspired with an endless supply of journaling prompts. 

Journal prompts are questions, thoughts, or suggestions that give you a starting point for writing. Even experienced journalers sometimes run out of writing ideas. When using prompts, remember that they are just suggestions to get you going. 

If one idea sparks another and takes you off on a different topic, that’s OK. The prompt did its job. Journaling prompts are meant to inspire and never limit your journaling experience. 

4 Journaling Techniques to Explore

There’s nothing wrong with opening your journal and writing down whatever’s on your mind. In fact, that’s an effective way to approach journaling. Sometimes trying different writing techniques can help you get past “stuck” points and help you see things differently. Here are some journaling techniques to try.

1. Visual Journaling 

Also called art journaling, visual journaling incorporates mixed media visual art instead of or in addition to text. You don’t need to be an artist or spend money on art supplies to benefit from visual journaling. Basically, you can think of this as creating a collage or vision board from whatever materials you have available or borrow from online.

2. First Thoughts Journaling

If you’re a morning person, you might enjoy this journaling technique. You just write about whatever your first thoughts of the day are. You may write about ideas, emotions, or even what you dreamed about. Writing first thing in the morning (sometimes called pre-day journaling) can provide clarity and insight into what you are feeling and thinking before the intrusive thoughts of the day fill your mind. 

3. Stream-of-Consciousness Journaling

Stream-of-consciousness writing (SOC) is a good technique for people who are hypercritical of themselves. With SOC, the goal is to keep writing for the allotted time without stopping or correcting grammar or spelling mistakes. You set a timer and write without stopping until it goes off.

4. Unsent Letter Journaling 

Whether it’s to yourself or someone else, letter writing can be a cathartic experience. Sometimes the people you need to speak with aren’t emotionally available or have already passed away. Writing a letter in your journal is one way to express your appreciation, anger, or pain. After writing, you can tear the letter up, delete it, share it with your therapist or trusted friend, or just keep it private. 

There’s no need to stick with only one journaling technique. You can use different writing styles and incorporate anxiety journal prompts whenever they seem helpful. 

a scene of someone using journal prompts for anxiety

Tips for Establishing a Regular Journaling Routine

Building a journaling habit every day is ideal, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Convenience is the key to building the foundation for a long-term journaling practice. If you prefer to journal in the evening or only want to write on the weekends, do what works for you. 

Making things too complicated or forcing yourself into an impractical schedule will result in frustration. You may quit journaling before you’ve had a chance to enjoy its benefits fully. 

Here are some tips to help you establish a journaling habit include:

  • Write in a private, quiet space where you won’t worry others are looking over your shoulder
  • Use a timer so you don’t have to divert your attention to check a clock
  • Give yourself five to 10 minutes of reflection time after writing before rushing off to other responsibilities
  • With the possible exception of sharing with a therapist, keep your journal private
  • Use journal prompts for anxiety or other prompts to help uncover new ideas 
  • Try different writing formats to see what you like best
  • Find a friend who wants to journal and use each other for accountability
  • Change up your journaling style once in a while
  • Use a journaling app for new ideas 

Starting a journaling practice is like creating any other habit. There are many distractions and excuses not to stick with it. Set reasonable journaling goals to help yourself stay enthusiastic. The more you meet your journaling goals, the more inspired you’ll be to continue. 

If you skip a few days or even weeks of journal writing, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Simply start again. Once you start enjoying the benefits of journaling, you will look forward to those quiet moments every day. 

Answering journaling prompts for anxiety with the Day One app

5 Types of Journal Prompts for Anxiety

Journaling is a simple yet effective tool for helping you work through everyday emotional challenges. But when you are already living with anxiety, staring at the blank page of a journal may feel overwhelming. Journaling prompts for anxiety provide a head start. You don’t have to worry about finding something to write about or wondering if you’re “doing it right.”

As with any habit, repeating the same thing can soon become boring. Carrots are good for you, but if carrots are the only vegetable you eat, it won’t take long to become tired of them. In addition, you’ll be missing out on a host of other important vitamins found in other types of vegetables. 

The same is true with journaling and using journaling prompts. Incorporating a variety of prompts that can address your anxiety from different angles helps ensure you’re getting the insight you want and need. 

1. Prompts for Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is viewing your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors without judgment. Reflecting on these aspects of the self is an essential step toward personal growth for all people. People living with anxiety may find self-reflection helps them manage their condition by:

  • Identifying anxiety triggers
  • Exploring the underlying causes of anxiety
  • Examining thought or behavior patterns that lead to anxiety
  • Identifying possible solutions

Try these anxiety journal prompts when you want to slow your mind and examine your reactions:

  • What makes me feel in control?
  • What are my biggest strengths?
  • What’s a failure I experienced recently? How did I learn and grow from it?
  • What can I accomplish today that I would not have been able to do a year ago?
  • Do I trust myself to make big decisions? If not, how can I learn to trust myself more?
  • What are five things I can do to calm myself in a stressful situation? 
  • What is a choice I can make today that will help me reach my goals?

Prompts for self-reflection help you calm your mind. With practice, they can also help you adjust your behaviors to be more in line with the confident, patient person you wish to be.  

2. Prompts for Emotional Awareness

American psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman has dedicated decades of study to emotional awareness. According to Ekman, emotional awareness is choosing how and when you show emotions. If anxiety causes you to react in a way you aren’t pleased with, increasing your emotional awareness can help. 

Controlling your emotions is not always possible. For example, if you’re in a car accident, it is natural to feel fearful and upset. In frightening situations, your body releases hormones that trigger the fight-or-flight response. But being aware of your emotions is the key to managing them. 

Try these journal prompts to increase your emotional awareness:

  • What am I feeling right now?
  • Which emotions do I try hardest to avoid?
  • What can I do to be kinder to myself when I’m feeling anxious?
  • How do I typically express my emotions?
  • How do I suppress my emotions?
  • Do I believe some emotions are negative or bad? If so, how did I come to that belief?
  • The last time I felt anxiety, what did I do about it? 

Journal prompts for anxiety that address emotional awareness can help identify the emotions associated with anxiety. Once you’ve identified them, the next step is to challenge any negative thought patterns. 

Finally, journaling can increase your level of self-compassion. Writing provides a healthy outlet for self-care as you work to understand your emotions better. 

3. Prompts for Gratitude and Positivity

No list of journal prompts for anxiety would be complete without the topic of gratitude. The simple act of expressing gratitude has a long-lasting effect on brain biology. Gratitude can help you release toxic emotions, reduce physical pain, and lessen the symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Giving and receiving gratitude triggers the release of “feel-good” hormones and activates the brain’s reward center. Keeping a gratitude journal helps you focus on positive experiences and moments of gratitude that can be a catalyst for the release of mood-managing neurotransmitters. 

Try these gratitude prompts to get started:

  • What are five things I take for granted but am very thankful for? 
  • What can I do to better express my gratitude to those I love?
  • Where is my “happy place” — the place I feel most relaxed? Describe this place in detail. 
  • I am thankful to myself for …
  • One thing I am most looking forward to today is …
  • What’s a friendship that I really cherish?
  • Describe a time recently when I really laughed.

In addition to these prompts, there are many ways to incorporate gratitude into your journaling practice. You might choose to list personal strengths and accomplishments or visualize a positive future and set goals to make that vision happen. 

4. Prompts for Self-Care and Coping Strategies

Working to improve your mental health means learning new and better coping strategies. A technique that helped you stay centered last month or year may not be effective today. Self-care is essential to maintaining good mental health. You are more vulnerable to anxiety triggers if you are hungry or sleep-deprived. 

Your self-care journal routine is effective because it can help you develop a more positive response to stress. As one of the mental health benefits of journaling, journaling itself can be a coping skill.

Through self-care journaling, you can:

  • Brainstorm and document self-care activities
  • Explore healthy coping mechanisms for anxiety
  • Track progress and evaluate the effectiveness of different strategies
  • Experience emotional catharsis
  • Confront negative emotions

Try these journaling prompts for self-care:

  • What is the biggest source of stress in my life right now, and what is one thing I can do about it?
  • Make a list of things (beliefs, habits, commitments, etc.) that no longer serve me, and write about how I can release them. 
  • Describe a perfect day of self-care. 
  • Write a self-love letter listing all my best qualities. 
  • Write about a person who inspires me. What qualities do they have that I admire, and how can I develop those qualities myself?
  • What is something I really love doing? How can I make time to do it more?

Self-care can encompass everything from your skin-care routine to seeing a therapist for help with your anxiety. All the ways you cope with stress and anxiety are valuable and worth journaling about. 

5. Prompts for Mindfulness and Relaxation

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in self-help circles, but being present in the moment provides many benefits to your mental health. There are many ways to develop mindfulness. 

Meditation is one of the most well-known methods, but you can practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime. Everyday activities like cooking dinner or taking a walk are perfect opportunities for focusing your awareness on the task at hand. 

Journaling is another opportunity for practicing mindfulness. When journaling, your attention focuses on your thoughts and feelings as you write. This kind of focus helps settle the mind. You control your thoughts instead of letting them control you. By combining meditation and journaling, you can record moments of peace and tranquility that help alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Mindfulness journaling prompts for anxiety like these may help:

  • What are my current surroundings? Describe them in detail.
  • What was a stillness or silence I experienced today? How did it make me feel?
  • What brought me joy today?
  • Write about one positive new habit I would like to explore. 
  • What are five things I noticed outside today?
  • Where am I holding tension in my body, and how can I release it?
  • What is something I thought was a failure but turned out to be a wonderful gift?

Incorporating relaxation techniques into your journaling practice can enhance your sense of mindfulness. Try deep breathing exercises before you begin writing or end your journaling session with five minutes of quiet contemplation before returning back to your daily schedule. 

Try Journal Writing to Help Manage Anxiety

By engaging in regular journaling, you can effectively manage anxiety and gain a deeper understanding of your thoughts and emotions. The act of writing down your feelings allows you to externalize and process them, providing a sense of relief and clarity. Incorporating various journaling styles, such as gratitude journaling, reflection journaling, or stream-of-consciousness writing, offers diverse approaches to explore and express your inner experiences. Journaling promotes self-awareness, emotional regulation, and resilience, allowing you to develop healthier coping mechanisms and build a stronger sense of self.

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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