Journaling has long been suggested as an amazing method to help cut down on stress and anxiety, especially during the pandemic. From doodling your thoughts on the blank pages of a fresh notebook when you were younger to writing out your thoughts and feelings for a class assignment, we’ve all likely journaled at some point in our lives.
Maybe you’ve yet to revisit the activity in your adult life, but there are some very good reasons why you should. Journaling has long been suggested as an amazing method to help cut down on stress and anxiety, especially during the pandemic. You can target your practice to specifically help you, whether experimenting with methods to help you sleep, or focusing on techniques that can help you feel less stressed, anxious or depressed.
The basics of journaling
Think about journaling as a different way of expressing your emotions. We spend so much time on screens in an increasingly digital world, that sometimes it just feels so right putting you feelings on paper. “Journaling helps you gain a better understanding and improve regulation of your emotions,” explains Dr. Tiffany N. Brown, a licensed clinical psychologist. “Without words, feelings can feel chaotic and unorganized, but when you journal, it organizes your feelings and experiences, which makes them more manageable.”
Brown thinks of writing your feelings down as an essential way to analyze your experience, starting out with questions that might feel really intuitive, such as: “How am I feeling? Why am I feeling this way? What really triggered this feeling?”
Likewise, journaling can also release tensions, improve your mood, heal your emotions and stimulate your mind, which increases a feeling of empowerment for doing everything from setting new goals and trying new things, according to Dr. Elizabeth Jennings. “Whether you’re feeling or experiencing being sad, tired, rejected, or lonely, journaling becomes a place to truly connect with yourself and be honest and open about the thoughts that lead to feelings,” Jennings explains. “When you are able to openly express your thoughts and feelings, then you will notice feeling lighter and improvement in your mood leading to feelings of being more energized and happy overall.”
For those that have ever felt that therapy is out of reach, whether financially or otherwise, journaling also provides a solution. “Emotions that are not able to be expressed whether they are fear, anger, resentment, or a number of other non-productive emotions can lead to increased feelings of anxiety or depression,” adds Jennings. “Journaling allows a safe, cost-effective, and nonjudgmental outlet for self-expression and leads to the healing of unproductive emotions and feelings.”
What kind of journaling is right for you?
Luckily, there are plenty of incredible resources everywhere from blogs to YouTube videos that explain the many different kinds of journaling. Before starting, it might be helpful to identify what goals you may have in mind. For example, Catherine Darley of the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine. has been advising hundreds of people who have issues with sleep to journal. “One helpful strategy is for people to journal before bed with the intention of setting their thoughts aside for the night to allow sleep,” she explains. “Spend ten minutes, one to two hours before bed, writing down the thoughts that tend to come up in the night. This can take any format, from a list to full sentence narrative. It could even be a picture representing your thoughts. The goal is to process these thoughts constructively during awake time, so they aren’t pressing in the night.”
Elsewhere, Jennings sees journaling as an extremely flexible tool, that can even be done on your phone or laptop, if you prefer it to paper. “Journals can have multiple uses,” she says. “Journaling can be themed to be a book full of positive affirmations that allow you to focus on overcoming. Another journal could be used as a method of self-expression or free-thinking. Some people use journals to be completely honest and raw with expressing feelings that they do not feel safe sharing with anyone else. Journaling allows and gives permission to communicate while providing the safety and security needed to help manage feelings of anxiety or depression that may exist.”
How to journal
In case you’re wondering, there is no wrong way to journal. As long as you feel like you’re expressing yourself, it acts as a form of release and betters your mental health. “For someone who has never journaled before, I would encourage them to do what feels accessible — for some it may mean getting a dedicated notebook and setting aside time at the end of the day or week, or it can mean using whatever notepad is around and jotting down bullet points,” explains psychologist Diana Hu of Therapy Notebooks. The newly-launched brand is known for its Anti-Anxiety Notebook, and founded by four licensed psychologists who noticed the underserved demand for mental health support. “I think journaling can be the most impactful and useful when it incorporates a few elements: one’s thoughts and emotions, and reflection and assessment. It may feel good to vent the entire time, but change happens best with self-reflection and understanding,” she says.
Likewise, there are plenty of journals with prompts, but sometimes the best thing is just writing down your feelings.
“I tend to encourage people to write down what they were thinking and envisioning when their mood shifted, anxiety escalated, or a panic attack emerged,” adds Rhonda Mattox, MD and Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. “I also like to encourage them to write down where they were and who was present so we can determine if people, places, or scenarios like traveling, being in the grocery store, or proximity to in-laws or leaders are triggering them.”
At the end of the day, writing things down can help you think through things. “Journaling, no matter how it is done, is a way of processing that is different from when we just think about something,” adds Hu.
By Kristen Bateman