So you’ve got a kickass morning routine, a consistent sleep schedule, you follow a diet that supports your gut health and you practice proper breathing exercises for at least 10 minutes a day BUT STILL that dang anxiety sneaks up on you?
This was my exact thought process only a few short years ago.
What do you do when you need instant relief?
Something to just stop that horrible, anxious feeling of despair?
Something that can help you think clearly again?
I was doing everything right, everything I had spent years studying, only to find I was unable to control my thoughts when I needed to the most.
Who else knows the anxiety hamster wheel all too well?
In those moments when anxiety, inevitably hijacked my brain, I have found that the most effective tool is journaling. Which is ironic considering my therapy journey.
Here’s the back story…
I was 21 years old and in my very first therapy session ever, the therapist handed me a workbook on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I’m pretty sure I actually rolled my eyes at her. My anxiety was so bad I was barely making it to any of my classes. I was drowning in my homework and she expected me to fill out a workbook every time I felt anxious?! The workbook itself gave me anxiety.
For those of you not familiar with CBT it’s a seven column thought record you use to identify your negative automatic thoughts (called NATs). It’s actually a very useful tool to help you understand the links between your thoughts and emotions, to challenge your negative thought patterns and come up with more realistic ones. But of course my sassy, 21-year old self did not see this.
I did not stay with this therapist long and told every other therapist afterwards for years “CBT does not work for me so please don’t use it in our sessions.” Not sure who I thought I was but ok.
YEARS later another therapist (who I still work with today) introduced me to journaling as a way to get to the root of my anxious thoughts and feelings. By the way, journaling is basically a less structured version of CBT and I now journal for my anxiety every single day.
If 21-year old me could only see me now!
Anxiety LOVES when you try and avoid it. Anxiety also loves when you obsessively think about it and try to find a solution. So basically you don’t want to think about your anxiety too much or too little.
Anxiety is basically Goldilocks
Did you know that the average person has between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day? Not all different of course! They’re normally the same repeated thoughts and thought patterns. But then your old pal anxiety comes knocking and before you know it you’re on that damn hamster wheel again repeating ONE thought 50,000 times a day.
How do you get your poor little hamster mind off that wheel?
If I had to pick the most important tool in my anti-anxiety toolkit today it would be journaling.
When I started I only did it when I felt anxious, now I do it every single day. Journaling increases emotional intelligence, develops self-awareness, provides clarity, increases our problem solving skills and helps to heal our emotional trauma. All of this releases anxiety.
The first and most important step is to acknowledge that you are anxious. It’s simple but shows awareness. Awareness empowers us to make changes and build on our areas of strength.
Next get out a pen and paper. It’s so helpful to write things out, break down your anxious thoughts piece-by-piece to find clarity, clear your mind, problem solve and work through your emotions.
Try any of these journal prompts next time you feel anxious:
1. When did I start to feel anxious? Was there something that triggered it?
2. If my anxiety had a message for me right now, what would it be?
3. Explain one way your anxiety has held you back this week? What could you do to change that?
4. What thought patterns do I have and how do they impact my life?
5. If I didn’t have anxiety I never would have learned ________
6. What is something I need to let go of? Why am I holding onto it?
7. Write a letter to yourself, forgiving you for something that has happened in your past.
8. What is one thing you wish you had said no to? Why didn’t you?
9. What was your biggest learning moment this week?
10. What is your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
11. Write about a difficult time in your life that you have overcome.
12. Make a list of all your accomplishments (there are many, I promise!)
13. Write a list of your greatest qualities.
14. Write a list of 10 things you are grateful for.
15. I feel the most at peace and connected when I am ___________
In my work with clients we go deep into these prompts and many more. Dissecting and deciphering thought patterns to tackle emotional and stressful points in their lives and better navigate them. Recognizing and reflecting on their strongest, wisest moments and using that same strength and wisdom to overcome future challenges.
You have the power to overcome anything already within you.
Journaling will shift your anxious thoughts, stress and rumination to empowered action. However, in order to work through our thoughts, making them more realistic and adaptive, we first need to understand them through the self-awareness and self-reflection that journaling provides.
Create a journaling habit in your life, I promise you won’t regret it! Whether you journal daily, weekly or on an as-needed basis when the anxiety gets too intense. Just start. Even if you only write for 5 minutes a day that’s an amazing place to start.
Here are a few more tips 🤗
1. Be honest in your journal and honest with yourself, it is for your eyes only. Don’t worry about spelling mistakes, skipping pages or scribbling things out - this isn’t a Hemingway novel!
2. Date your entries and re-read them to see your progress, your emotional timeline and identify patterns.
3. Write sloooowwwww! Don’t try and scribble everything going on in your head onto your paper. Your hand can’t move that fast! It quite literally cannot keep up with your anxiety. The slow movement of your hand will force your thoughts to slow.
4. Finally, never ever, ever, ever, ever end an entry on a negative note. Always end an entry with a positive ending. Even in the darkest moments, there is a silver lining. With every negative comes a positive. When you are struggling to find a positive ending for your entries think of three things you are grateful for and end with that. There is always something to be grateful for!
Remember to always, always be patient and kind to yourself.
Reach out for support if you need it 💜
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