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I’ve been in and out of therapy for years. A mixture of distrust in the process and never connecting with my therapist left me cycling through different practitioners when things got tough. I struggle with anxiety and depression, the former of which flares up on a daily basis. After living with anxiety for the better part of my life, I started to get pretty good at masking it. My internal thoughts might be spiraling out of control, but outwardly, I seem fine. I started to believe this is just what life is like.
Currently, I’m not in therapy. I’m living in a new city in a new country, and even though my anxiety hasn’t taken any time off while I settle into my new life, finding a therapist hasn’t been at the top of my to-do list. With all the change happening in my life, this would normally be a time when I seek out therapy again, even if only for a short burst of time. Self-care is still a priority of mine right now, however, and understanding the way my anxiety works is important to my growth as a person. So, a month ago, I finally took the advice of every self-help professional and therapist out there: I started journaling every morning. Below, find my learnings from the process and the ways in which journaling about my anxiety have helped.
Routine Is Key
I’ve tried journaling before, but I've never able to keep up with it—it always felt more like a chore than something cathartic. But, in the past month, I’ve found implementing a routine is key. I loosely followed the idea of “Morning Pages,” which comes from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It stresses the importance of building the writing exercise into your daily routine. Basically, with Morning Pages, you wake up in the morning, grab your journal, and write three pages of whatever is on your mind—sort of like a stream of consciousness.
It's meant to help increase creativity, because getting whatever is on your mind on the page first thing in the morning can help kick-start brainstorming and prepare you for the day.
But, instead of using it for creativity purposes, I took the concept and applied it to my anxiety. I wake up every morning, make a cup of coffee, and write about whatever is cycling through my mind at that moment. Moving anxieties, friendship anxieties, relationship anxieties—it all goes on the page. When I hit three pages, I stop, shut my journal, and put it away until the next day. Doing this specifically in the morning has helped it become an important part of my process, and I’ve come to look forward to the time with myself. I don’t need to answer texts or emails during this time, I just look inward and write whatever I want.
Don't Worry if You Don’t Know What to Say
Even if you feel like you have nothing to put on the page that day, don’t worry—just write anything. For me, sometimes I have anxieties I’m ready to even consider. Those days, I like to write about whatever I need to do with my day, or even what I’m grateful for in my life at the moment. Again, it’s really whatever comes to your mind, there’s no need to overthink or refine anything you write down. It's my time when I only have to think about exactly what I want to think about.
It's very freeing. As a writer, I tend to pour over words and type endlessly—sentences can always be restructured, words can always be swapped, and paragraphs can always be rewritten.
But this pen to paper technique forced me to let go of my need to tweak everything I write. You choose a word, you choose a sentence, and you commit. After a month, I feel like it’s made less doubtful of my professional writing as well.
You'll Likely Feel Less Anxious Over Time
Going into this, I thought taking 20 or 30 minutes every day to write about what was bothering me would force to me focus more heavily on my anxiety throughout the day. But it’s had the opposite effect—the anxieties I write about tend to dissipate quickly after putting them on paper. Almost like I’m taking them out of my head and putting them elsewhere.
Afterwards, it feels like the though doesn't threaten me anymore. It’s not in me anymore, and I can breathe. This doesn’t work for everything I ruminate on, but it does work for some things, which is a huge plus.
After exactly a month of journaling about my anxieties, I can confidently say I have no intention of stopping. The process has felt like self-therapy, and has helped me feel more confident and calm when I start my days. I think it’s been a good preparation for how I can share my feelings with a therapist in a more healthy way, when I choose to see someone.
I don’t see journaling as a chore anymore either—I see it has my time for myself. A few moments in my day that no one else has access to except for me. I choose what I write, how I feel, and what I think about. There's really no more empowering feeling than that.