Anxious? Crack Open Your Journal
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
By Brianne Sorensen, Editor in Chief
Everything around me was silent except for my brain. I checked the clock. 2:36 a.m. This marked the fourth night I lied awake riddled with morale-crushing anxiety.
I used to journal every day in high school. I took time out of my busy mornings and evenings to write a quick summary of my thoughts, my ideas for new projects, sometimes even just a doodle. Somewhere between high school and my freshman year of college, I stopped taking time to journal.
Earlier in March of this year, the morning after my fourth night lying awake all night, asking myself impossible questions about solutions, I bought a journal. I know. It’s a total cliché.
But it helped. A lot.
Study after study has proven journaling is effective in managing anxiety, reducing stress, coping with depression, and much more. While you journal, the rational and analytical left side of your brain is activated to help you produce a page of thoughts, concerns, and ideas. While the left side of the brain is activated, the right side of your brain is able to “loosen up” and this helps creativity flow through you onto the pages of your journal. In this way, journaling helps your brain work more effectively and you are better able to process thoughts and emotions.
Researchers hypothesize journaling helps guide us toward confronting previously inhibited emotions. While we confront these emotions, our stress from the inhibition is lifted and we are more able to process difficult events by creating a personal, yet informative and coherent, narrative of our lives.
In college students in particular, journaling can help reduce brooding and rumination, which contribute to depressive symptoms. This study from Harvard suggests journaling- particularly about emotions- can help ease stress and trauma. The study drew me in because the researchers test their theories on college students and found pronounced, interesting results.
This fascinating article from Positive Psychology about writing therapy, a type of journaling practice, discusses a study in which researchers gave patients suffering from asthma and rheumatoid arthritis a variety of journaling exercises. After the patients spent as little as 20 minutes a day journaling, they had significantly better health outcomes.
Journaling can help you gain control of your emotions in a gentle way. Through journaling, you can prioritize your fears, problems, concerns, and more just by reading what you mindlessly wrote down on the page. Journaling can help you easily track how you feel each day. This tracking helps us become more aware of how we are feeling and potentially helps us recognize triggers. Likewise, the roots of feeling anxious can be minimized if you can determine what they are and how to examine them.
Through journaling, I found I was able to reset my mindset of negativity to one of more hopefulness. I did this in two ways. First, I provided myself with constructive criticism that was honest but uplifting and gentle. By analyzing my lifestyle and mindset I was able to clearly define what was making me anxious, which helped me figure out techniques to tackle those parts of my life. Second, after writing a journal entry, I would re-read and re-think what I wrote and ask myself questions. I would challenge myself to think in new ways about tough situations. When I came up with a new outlook on something, I would write it down. Oftentimes, writing these new outlooks down helped me come up with several others to help me overcome many aspects of my anxiety.
I encourage you to take the time to journal throughout the day. Even five minutes can make the difference. I get full, restful nights of sleep now and I credit a large part of that success to journaling.
Journaling can help depression, but it is not a substitute for professional guidance if your depression is severe. Journaling should also be considered only one aspect of a healthy diet. This article from the University of Rochester’s Medical Center suggests other activities such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and meditation to help gain the most benefits of journaling and a healthy lifestyle.