Everyone experiences stress – the tension and pressure of too many demands on our time and resources (both emotional and material).
Even if you don’t meet the clinical criteria for an anxiety disorder, I’m sure you’ve experienced some of the hallmark symptoms from time to time:
- uncontrollable worry
- trouble concentrating
- rumination or obsessive thoughts
- muscle tension
- stomach aches, headaches, backaches, gastrointestinal problems
- blushing, sweating, trembling
- feeling on edge
One of the hallmarks of anxiety is ruminating or thinking about the same thing over and over again. Once your brain latches onto a worry, it’s hard to break free of it. Ruminating isn’t useful for problem-solving. It’s like being stuck in a thought loop where you imagine the worst possible outcome or dwell on a mistake you made – magnifying your fears and creating problems where there aren’t any.
There are a number of effective treatments for anxiety such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), exposure therapy, medication, physical exercise, mindfulness, and meditation. A licensed professional can help you find the right treatment if you have an anxiety disorder.
Journaling can also be a helpful self-help strategy for reducing stress and anxiety.
Stress tends to build over time. In small amounts, we often miss the signs that stress and anxiety are mounting. When used consistently, these journaling prompts can help you identify the early signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety. Noticing your stress and anxiety earlier gives you the best chance to cope with it effectively. Like most things, stress and anxiety are easier to deal with when they’re smaller.
How to use journaling to reduce stress and anxiety
Below are a set of journaling prompts to help relieve and reduce stress and anxiety. I recommend journaling every day (or nearly every day) for two to three weeks. Try to find a time that works for you; journaling every morning before work or every night right before bed can help create a new habit, which ultimately helps you remember to journal. You don’t have to use all of the journaling prompts. Feel free to use those that are helpful to you and modify them to best suit your needs.
- What do you feel anxious about right now?
- What situations or people feel stressful?
- What aspects of these situations or people do you have the power to change?
- Rate how anxious you feel on a scale from 1 to 10.
- How do you know that you’re feeling stressed or anxious?
- Where do you feel anxiety or tension in your body?
- What thoughts or “self-talk,” tells you that you’re anxious? (Look for cognitive distortions including all or nothing thinking such as “never” or “always”, catastrophizing, or “shoulds”).
- What other emotions are you feeling? (Sometimes there are other feelings hiding beneath anxiety. See if you can identify any other feelings.)
- What do you think is the worst thing that could happen?
- How likely do you think this is to happen?
- What has helped when you’ve felt stressed or anxious in the past?
- What coping skills do you have to deal with your anxiety?
- When will you use these coping skills? Make a concrete plan to do things that reduce your anxiety. Such as, “I will go for a swim after work tonight”.
- List three positive things that happened today.
- List three of your strengths.
- What do you think your anxiety might be trying to tell you?
- How could you see your anxiety as helpful?
Managing anxiety can be hard. It takes practice to implement new behaviors and ways of thinking. Journaling can help you process your thoughts and feelings, notice the early signs of stress and anxiety, and focus on what you can do to relieve your stress and anxiety and solve your problems.
If you live in the San Jose area and need additional support to help manage your anxiety, click here to learn more about how I can help!
©2017 Sharon Martin, LCSW. Originally published on my blog, Happily Imperfect.
Photos courtesy of Unsplash.com.