Journaling is a classic mental health practice that’s stood the test of time, and for good reason. Though it’s gotten a trendy makeover, journaling for wellbeing has been popular since the 1960s because it’s such an effective tool. Journaling for anxiety is an even more directed practice.
Challenging Your Anxious Thoughts
Writing your thoughts down helps slow the mind so that you can reexamine the thoughts causing anxiety and stress. According to wellness coach Dr. Elizabeth Scott, “Challenging your thoughts can help you relieve anxiety. It helps you see that things are less likely to happen than you think, or they are not as bad as you think they could be.”
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling for anxiety can help:
- Halt a ruminating mind
- Create awareness through objectivity
- Develop mindfulness and gratitude practices
Journaling also necessitates taking a few quiet moments to ourselves—and who among us couldn’t use a little more quiet time to think and breathe?
Journaling Prompts for Anxiety
Journaling can be a useful tool regardless of how often you do it. Some may see the most benefit from writing just a few lines per day, while others may only journal when they feel really anxious.
If coming up with anxiety-releasing journal prompts on your own is a stumbling block, try these.
1. 10 Good Things
Describe 10 good things that happened during your day, no matter how large or small. Petting your cat, for example, getting the perfect morning latte, or opening a new bottle of your favorite moisturizer all definitely count.
Feel free to keep going if you come up with more than 10! The more things you find, the better your brain will become at seeing a pattern of positivity.
Write down all the things you’re anxious or upset about. Then, reread the passage and cross out temporary things, such as I got a papercut, or I spilled coffee on my new pants. These are things that are easy to resolve or will resolve themselves, so you can let go of the stress around them.
Next, circle things with longer-lasting effects, like I had a fight with my spouse or my coworker keeps crossing my boundaries. On separate pages, jot down a list of things you can do to begin addressing the problem, such as talk to my partner when we’re both calm or contact HR.
Knowing where to start on larger issues will help you reset and move forward confidently.
3. Mine Your Memories
Recall and write about a fond memory, in as much detail as possible. Immersing yourself in this lovely moment will help you relive the good feelings and contentment you felt at that time. Then, pick out a few things from that memory that you experience in your daily life, such as spending time with my sister or observing the clouds.
[Read: “Unearthing Ecstatic Memories.”]
You can also look for other things in the memory you haven’t experienced in a while and blend them back into your life. For instance, if you used to love playing chess with your dad, see if you can schedule regular chess games. The same goes for favorite foods, entertainment, and hobbies you may rediscover.
4. Reframe Negative Thoughts
As humans, it’s natural for us to assign emotional value to things happening around us, which sometimes makes us feel like objective events are happening to us instead. For example, if it’s raining and you’re already in a bad mood, you may feel like the rain is there to spite you, rather than just being a natural weather event.
This is where reframing thoughts is helpful. If you find yourself looking at the world through smudged and dour glasses, try writing down your negative thoughts and then rewriting them to be positive or neutral.
For example, It’s gross and dark outside, this always happens to me might become It’s raining, so I’ll need my umbrella, and I’ll make some hot tea when I get to work.
The second statement allows you to observe and process what’s happening without assigning emotion to it, which in turn prevents a buildup of avoidable anxiety.
For more on a structured practice for wellbeing, read “Writing and Healing: A Journaling Guide.”