• Sarah Lyall-Neal PsyD

Write it Down: Journaling for Anxiety

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

There are writers and there are those who haven’t kept a journal since they were forced to in elementary school. This article is for people in both camps. My parents got me my first journal when I was in third grade. It had a cute little bear on it and I just loved it. That gift led to a lifelong love of writing. I kept journals all through elementary school, high school, and college. In planning this article, I realized I had gotten out of the habit of journaling in recent years and need to start back.

A lot of times when I mention journaling to my therapy clients, I’ll get some pushback. The biggest complaint is usually the time commitment. I think somewhere along the way we have all been given a school assignment to keep a journal. Usually, as a part of those assignments we have had to write a whole page and utilize proper form (capitol letters, periods, etc.). I’m not a teacher and this isn’t school.

When I talk to my clients about journaling, I tell them to throw away everything they have ever thought about journaling and start from scratch. In therapeutic journaling we take pride in run on sentences and misspelled words. If your English teacher would pass out after reading your journal, your doing it right. Length doesn’t matter either. If you can say what you need to say in two sentences great, if you need five pages awesome. If you need to draw a picture on the page instead of using words, that’s fine too. Your journal is YOURS.

Why Journal?

When we are experiencing anxiety, even if we are talking to others, often times we aren’t telling them the whole story. We often talk about the parts of the anxiety that are safest and leave out the deeper, darker, aspects of our anxiety. The part of the anxiety we aren’t talking about, is the part we need to be journaling about.

Sometimes the act of simply getting a thought out of our head and onto a piece of paper can make a tremendous impact on how we perceive that thought. Once a thought is on paper, we read it using a different part of our brain than the one that had it on a perpetual loop in our head.

Try it right now, grab a scrap of paper or open the notes app on your phone and write down a thought that is causing you anxiety at the moment. Take a second (a couple deep breaths would be good here) and then reread the statement. Did it feel different to you? Of course, it did, because the thought was no longer a part of you. The simple act of putting the thought on paper added a level of removal. To put it another way, the thought was inside you and now its not (cool huh). Is the thought still anxiety provoking? Yep, sure is. Is it crippling? Not as much.

Now What?

You have already benefited from simply writing your scary, negative, anxiety provoking thought down, but you want more and I don’t blame you. Let’s take it next level. Now that we have those ugly, nasty, thoughts on paper let’s challenge them…what do you think?

If you have been with me for a while (and thank you if you have :)), then you will remember my very first post was called CBT and Your Faith. In that post, I walked you through challenging your negative thoughts, by utilizing faith based principles. Just so you know, there are no new problems under the sun, the Bible has an answer for you no matter what you are going through.

Since I like examples, I’m going to go through a couple examples of anxiety producing situations and aid you in coming up with verses to utilize in your journaling.

Example 1: Job related stress. I see people commenting about this on social media all the time. When you are experiencing job related stress, you often feel like you can’t do anything right. You also fear the loss of your job and everything that would entail.

Verse for Example 1: Psalm 23: 1-6

1 The Lord is my shephard; I have all that I need.

2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.

3 He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.

4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies, you honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.

6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Take time to actually write the verse/verses out. Writing them out by hand makes you read them closely and ultimately that helps you form a deeper bond with them. Once you write your verse and your thought. It’s time to journal in any way you want to. The only thing, I would suggest is to somehow tie the verse and your anxiety thought together in such a way that the verse helps heal the pain of the thought.

Completing Example 1: You might have written, "I'm so tired and overwhelmed. I just can't go on."- In your journal, you might pull from verse 3 and say, "I'm tired right now, but God will renew my strength, he will guide me through this situation in a way that is pleasing to him."

God knows we experience periods of tiredness and he is there for us. He will restore us (you can't beat that for a confidence booster).

Example 2: Arguing over money with your significant other.

Verse for Example 2: James 1:19

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

Again, take time to write the verse out. Think about it a little bit. How does this verse pertain to the relationship you have with your significant other (who is your brother or sister in Christ by the way)? Are you always quick to listen? Slow to speak? Or Slow to get angry? If not, could developing these traits help your relationship? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it would.

Remember write your thought, then your verse, then journal about them in any way you see fit.

Completing Example 2: You might have written, "why does money have to be such a problem in our relationship?" If so, you wouldn't be alone, money problems is the number one relationship killer. In your journal, you might ask yourself, am I listening to my signigicant other? Am I taking time to understand their feelings about money? Am I asking them the right questions from a place of love? Am I looking inward to see if my anger is being triggered by something more than money?

You might change the thought to say, "I am angry that my significant other spends more money than I would like, but I am going to make an effort to express my concerns in a loving, understanding way.

That's it, journaling for anxiety isn't so scary right. Let me let you in on a little cheat. Google your problem and then put in Bible verse. The lovely web has got your back when you need to find the exact verse for the moment.

Just for fun...Do you know what you had for dinner on Febuary 15, 1996? I do. Journaling can create a wonderful reminder of times gone by. I'm pretty sure I was going for hamburgers and french fries here!

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