If You're Journaling to Manage Your Anxiety or Depression, These Therapists' Tips Could Help
If you are currently experiencing anxiety or depression, you may be looking for simple ways to help you manage and better understand the various emotions you’re feeling. Although everyone’s experience is different, some professional therapists recommend journaling as an additional way to process and cope with your feelings. If you’re interested in journaling to help with your anxiety or depression, we spoke to licensed professionals on how to get started. Please keep in mind that journaling is not meant to replace any treatments you are currently partaking in, and is instead an additional way to potentially help improve your mental health.
If you are feeling anxious or depressed and need help finding help or resources, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (1-240-485-1001) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (1-800-950-6264) have resources available.
Start a Gratitude Journal
“The goal of journaling is simply to recognize the good and focus on what is going right to help increase our positive emotions,” psychiatric social worker Aaliyah Nurideen, MSW, LSW, told POPSUGAR. “Gratitude-journaling is a great way to manifest happiness through noticing and observing joy and successes – whether big or small – in our lives to improve our well-being.”
According to Aaliyah, you can journal daily or weekly, whatever works best for you. To start gratitude-journaling, she recommends responding to one of the following prompts for seven days straight:
- Describe something you did well today. She likes this prompt because it helps you recognize smaller moments of success.
- What are three things you’re good at? She recommends this prompt because it allows you to get out of the cycle of thinking negatively about yourself and allows you to acknowledge your strengths.
- Describe three reasons to be excited for the future. This prompt will shift your thinking from your current circumstance and help create hope and optimism, Aaliyah said.
“Once you develop a routine and become familiar with journaling, you can then move on to reflecting upon your entire week and choosing as many prompts to guide you as you journal,” she added. Below are additional prompts she recommends to guide your journaling.
- What is something that you were grateful for today?
- Describe how you were helpful to someone this week.
- What is something beautiful that you saw today?
- Describe something that made you laugh today.
- What is something you accomplished today or this week?
- Describe an unexpected good thing that happened to you today or this week.
- Describe a challenge you overcame today or this week.
- What is something nice someone said to you today or this week?
- Describe a moment in which you were proud of yourself today.
- What was your favorite part of today or this week?
Journal About What You Appreciate About Yourself
If you have anxiety, depression, or a general desire to improve your mental health, psychotherapist Tory White, MS, MFCT, EMDR, said to start journaling about what you enjoy about yourself. It could be how selfless you are or something as simple as your infectious laugh – nothing is off limits.
“Asking a client to journal about what they appreciate about themselves or a time they discovered something unique or special about themselves starts the repair,” Tory explained. She recommends this type of journaling because “therapeutic journaling helps form a healthier view of self to build self-esteem back.” Ideally, this will lead to self-forgiveness and repairing negative internal thoughts, according to Tory. To get started, she recommends starting your entry with “I accept myself because . . .” or “I’m doing my best because . . .”
“Journaling can be used as a therapeutic exercise,” psychotherapist Dr. Holly Sawyer, PhD, MS, LPC, NCC, CAADC, the owner of Life First Therapy, told POPSUGAR. “Therapeutically, it can be a great source to thought-dump unhealthy, anxious, or depressing beliefs.”
Dr. Sawyer typically recommends writing down any negative thoughts you have around your anxiety or depression on one page. Then, on another page, write a list of positive thoughts that counteract the negative thoughts. She recommends this exercise because it allows you to slow down and “check the facts around your thinking.” She advises following this prompt daily or returning to it whenever you feel anxious or depressed.
Write From a Place of Self-Compassion
Könül Surofchy, MS, LMFT, a psychotherapist in private practice at Therapology, said that a lot of the work she does with her clients who have depression focuses on self-compassion. She believes focusing on self-compassion works because people often tend to experience isolation, self-critical dialogue, avoidance, or over-identification with the thoughts and feelings that come up around anxiety and depression.
“A self-compassion frame of mind shifts these patterns by incorporating three elements, including self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness,” Könül said. Whenever you notice something you deem to be a shortcoming, instead of attacking yourself, Könül said to offer yourself unconditional acceptance and warmth. “Self-compassion opens us up to attending to our feelings and pain in a mindful, accepting manner without judgment. We are not avoiding our pain, nor are we becoming our pain, we are more so objectively observing it take place,” she explained.
If you want to practice self-compassion, Könül encourages “daily writing for approximately five minutes or more.” She also recommends listing the things you’re grateful for or writing all the feelings you experienced in a given day. If this helps you feel better, you can and should continue to journal, but Könül also recommends working with a nonjudgmental professional to better manage your anxiety and/or depression.
Keep a Thought Record
“For those dealing with anxiety, journaling can be very helpful in that it not only allows you to release your thoughts on paper, but it also allows you to monitor your thoughts and identify thought patterns and triggers,” Kim Boone, MA, LMHC, MATS, a clinical director at Recovery Works Merrillville, told POPSUGAR. Kim recommends those with anxiety use a cognitive-behavioral therapy tool called a thought record.
“This technique allows one to track their thought and behavioral patterns in the hopes that after consistently reviewing the negative or maladaptive thought patterns and behavioral responses it will prompt a need to change,” she explained. Kim finds this method beneficial because visualizing how we respond and react to situations on paper “puts things in perspective in a way that makes us want to change.”
Another technique she recommends is to write out everything you’re thinking, “but for every irrational thought, write a thought that is less harmful or an alternative to the problem that is not as debilitating as the current perceived outcome.” This technique will give you another way to approach the situation and teach you how to challenge your negative thoughts, according to Kim.
“For those with depression, journaling can be beneficial in the same way it can for anxiety in that it offers a release of the pain, suffering, and other feelings that are causing emotional, psychological, and physiological distress,” Kim said.
For those with depression, Kim recommends free-flow writing, “meaning just freely writing how they are feeling at the time to get the weight off of them.” She added, “I would also encourage them to maintain a gratitude journal and start listing all of the things that they are grateful for and anything that they find good so that their mind can now start to identify with and acknowledge that things are not all bad and that there is still hope.” According to Kim, this method is beneficial because “it helps to change the constant pattern of negative thinking and allows them to see the good where they would not have otherwise.”