7 Types Of Journaling That Can Help You Manage Anxiety

by Kaitlyn Wylde
Jes Aznar/Getty Images News/Getty Images

For as long as I can remember, anxiety has followed me like a storm cloud through life. And though all of the drizzles or monsoons I've weathered have helped me to become a bit more waterproof, I'll never be immune to the effects of my anxiety. As a writer, you might not be surprised to learn that the one thing that's always worked for me is journaling. But what you might not know is that you definitely don't need to be a writer to reap the relieving benefits of expression on anxiety. There are a variety of different types of journaling methods that can help to reduce anxiety, whether you're the kind of person who finds comfort in writing or not.

To explore this concept further, Bustle talked to psychologist Dr. Alexandra Lash about how effective journaling can be for some people who suffer with anxiety or anxious thoughts. Of anxiety as a condition, Dr. Lash tells Bustle, "anxiety can present itself differently for different people; some people have physical symptoms like racing heartbeat and breathlessness, out of nowhere. While others may experience those same symptoms only in social settings. Or, some people may not have physical symptoms but may have anxious thoughts. Anxiety is very common, but how people experience it can vary greatly." Essentially, what works for one person might not work for someone else, but Dr. Lash says that shouldn't discourage most people from trying.

As for journaling, Dr. Lash says that having a prompt can be helpful for people new to the method, making writing a relieving activity. For some people, a blank page alone can cause anxious thoughts, so having some kind of guidance as you bring your pen to the paper can start you off on a better foot. "Sometimes, we're more comfortable doing things that have been modeled for us, so a prompt can work as a helping hand that offers just enough assistance to get us going without hesitation", Dr. Lash says.

As for Dr. Lash's own approach, one thing she has found helpful with patients who are prone to panic attacks is writing letters to their future selves. Having the ability to read a letter that was written from a place of calmness and feelings of safety can be beneficial. Hearing yourself tell yourself that you survived it previously can be extremely therapeutic.

Based on my own experience with the method, I implore you to give journaling a try. No matter how you feel about writing, you'll want to give some of my journaling prompts a chance the next time you're feeling moderately anxious.

Assign Your Concerns For Empaths

If you believe yourself to be a deeply sensitive or empathetic person, you might be carrying around with you more thoughts than your own. When your thoughts are feeling congested, make a list of all of the things that are weighing you down. Once you're done with the list, take a break, walk around, have a glass of water, and come back to the list with fresh eyes. As you look at each thought on the list, ask yourself if it belongs to you. Are you actually feeling untrusting of your partner, or are those feelings leftover from the conversation you had with your friend about her trust issues with her partner? If you can think of someone in your life who you might be carrying that thought for, write their name down next to it, and cross it off.

Free Write Confessional

There are no rules for journaling, and sometimes what you think might be bothering you isn't exactly the root of your anxiety. Give yourself a blank page to write whatever comes to mind, without any pressure to pinpoint the source of your anxiety. By starting an entry with small talk about the day, you might find yourself indirectly locating a pressure point at your own pace.

Micro Goal List

If setting large or longterm goals for yourself gives you anxiety, don't do it. Make a micro goal list for yourself that you can actually achieve so that you can experience the freeing joy of crossing things off, without stressing yourself out. Shower: check. Have tea: check. Walk around the block: check. Write email: check.

Write A Letter You Won't Send

When you're feeling anxious about an interaction or a personal relationship, you might have a lot of dialog building up in your head. And while a real conversation might be necessary, writing a letter to someone that you won't send will help to expel some of the extra energy that's overwhelming you. Write an honest and brutal letter, holding nothing back. Write as many letters as you need to before you feel some relief — just don't send them.

Rapid Writing

If you're not a writer, or the concept of writing for relief feels more like a homework assignment than a solution, set a timer and get it done quickly. Whether you set a timer for two minutes, five minutes, or more, write whatever you want, as fast as you can, during that time only. The first few times you try this exercise you might end up with a page that reads "I hate writing, this is stupid, I am still anxious," and that's OK. The hope is that you get to a point where you can use those few minutes to give yourself permission to write, " I am anxious because..."

Picture Reflection

Find a picture that you like, or don't like, and write about it. Maybe it's a picture of you as a child, maybe it's a picture of you and your ex, maybe it's a picture where you look sad, or maybe it's a picture that you're not in at all. Any image that makes you feel a certain kind of way is worth writing about. Likely there's a current reason that it's resonating with you, so explore that.

Word Flow

If you're not a writer, sentences, word choice, and structure can feel like shackles. The goal is to flow, not to choke up, so give yourself the freedom to write however you want. Write words, draw shapes, write fragments of thoughts or song lyrics that are resonating with you right now, whatever you do, just put your pen to the paper and let out some steam.