Write To Make It Right: Can Journaling Help With Anxiety?

But what to write about - you may ask when someone suggests journaling. You may even snigger at the thought of writing a journal. This was my first response when a friend told me that, for her, one of the best ways to deal with anxiety was journaling. Really?

But what is journaling? I thought at first that it might be referring to keeping a diary and listing everything I’d done in the day… which sounds tedious and possibly quite dull too. But no, journaling just for some simple peace of mind is an entirely different exercise.

So, whilst the benefits of other mental health treatments can of course not be undermined, if you’re a student and money and time are both quite ‘tight’, why not start writing down your emotions? It does have recognised therapeutic benefits, and it is free.

Not only do many mental health charities and researchers recommend journaling, but I can vouch for it too (for whatever that counts). The theory goes that writing your thoughts and feelings on the page is like speaking to a therapist, in that you are letting your emotions out to someone who does not judge you and is not connected to you…well in this case, it is a piece of paper! There are numerous publications around how journaling reduces stress and can help deal with trauma (Baikie & Wilhelm 2005). The mere fact of verbalising our feelings and assigning them to a safe space is a first step to healing. Journaling uses the left side of our brains, known as the ‘analytical side’, while in the meantime, the more creative, right hand side of our brain is left to flourish and find the words to describe precisely how we feel, without inhibition, guilt or shame.

Whilst at first you may feel a little stupid and perhaps self-conscious when starting a journal, within a couple of sentences your mind will be off on a tangent of its own, and before you know it, your page will be covered in your thoughts.

Journaling can help prioritise our thoughts and express things that we perhaps feel we can’t in everyday life. Another benefit of writing things down, is that it may help you recognise patterns of thought, either ones that are making you happy or sad. This way, we learn more and more about ourselves and can see things with greater perspective. It is also helpful sometimes to look back on how you may have felt in the past, as evidence that sad feelings never last forever, or – the opposite - to remember days where you were happy if, at present, you’re having a bit of an ‘off’ one.

Creating a writing habit (writing at set times of the day) has a similar effect to meditation. Writing in a journal takes place at a snippet of your day where you are (hopefully) completely alone, clam and present and this moment can be like an important point of balance and calm in your day. Psychologists advise that those journaling for mental health reasons, should do this with some structure to it, by (1) reading back what you wrote and (2) to take the time to reflect upon it. How to exit (3) your daily writing is equally important as you must allow yourself to ‘close’ the topic for the day and not to keep ruminating about it.

It's clear that journaling can have many, scientifically recognised, positive impacts on our brain and our mental wellbeing. Additional perks: it’s free and you can take as long as you want. Out pen to paper now. The hurdle could not be lower. It is most definitely worth the try.

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