Why journaling is a good idea
Danielle Wathes explains why journaling can be a great way for those experiencing anxiety issues to open up about their feelings
Journaling is a tried and tested way to improve mental health, and it’s been a recommended method for many years.
Over the years, we’ve picked up iPhones, gadgets and activity books, but the pen and paper method of journaling will always be relevant and continue to produce results. It brings with it the idea of opening up and talking, but in a much more private setting and only to yourself.
If you struggle with putting your feelings out there to others, journaling is a great way to get everything across without the stress of someone looking directly at you for an answer.
We are more honest with ourselves. Sometimes in day-to-day life we can end up spending more of our time covering up our anxieties; all our energy goes into making sure we look and sound fine on the outside.
The truth is we don’t always know what is going on within us half the time, or what is causing it, let alone how to control it or explain it to others. This can make it very hard to talk about things openly. And so we create a pattern of behaviour which can mean putting more effort into hiding our anxiety rather than talking about it.
So, when you’re in a position where you’re encouraged to talk about it, you are too well practiced at playing it down.
Opening up to you
Journaling is a great tool to allow you to start that talking process by opening up to yourself first, getting used to expressing how you are feeling honestly…and the only person who is listening is you.
It is a process within your own control because it’s something you can do in your own time and at your own pace.
This could be considered an advantage, but also possibly a disadvantage. Unfortunately, busy lives can often mean we don’t ‘get the time’ to journal as much as we should…but having the power to make that decision, of when, where and what you are going to write, can be empowering in itself.
In addition, journaling is about exploration. Unlike writing on your iPhone, the physical act of writing on paper gives you the feeling that you are truly getting something off your shoulders, actually putting words onto paper.
It can be a therapeutic process. I’ve known some people to then rip up the pages they’ve just written or to throw them in the bin as a way of releasing those feelings. It’s very expressive and can be very healing and emotionally cleansing.
Mental health benefits
When you suffer with an anxiety disorder or experience high daily stress, you often feel as though you are going round in circles, even waiting for the next panic attack.
It’s the confusion and looming fear which is the hardest thing to overcome and can prevent you from getting on with your life. We can often find ourselves looking to treat the symptoms rather than discover the cause; that’s especially true when it comes to mental health because the cause is often unknown and deeply embedded.
But the brain, like any machine, can be re-wired and trained to think differently. Once we are aware of the associations that we are making we can begin to improve our thinking towards them.
Journaling allows us to do this. If we get into a routine of analysing our behaviours and moods, anxiety stops being a force that can’t be stopped and starts being something to look at statistically and in a way that can be controlled.
It’s worth a try.
Getting started in your journaling is simple, all you need is a pen and a notebook, although there are additional tools that you may find useful.
To help people take that first step, I created the Discovery Journal, where the layout is a little different than the conventional notepad. It’s split into sections which you are then guided through and prompted to tick, circle or rate in specific areas of each section.
Journaling shouldn’t be about sitting down for hours trawling through your feelings; the Discovery Journal is designed to cut through all the noise of the day and the confusion that so often contributes to the misunderstanding of anxiety. You work through the day like you are filling out a form, just including the foundations of the day; there are prompts for you to add additional associations. By designing the journal in this format, the time commitment is minimal, which is one primary reason some decide not to journal.
The prompted nature of the journal also allows you to easily find the words you need and encourages you to be more expressive. You build up a picture of your day from a distance and monitor your reactions and emotions over time. Unless you have the time and inclination to go back through old journals, trying to find patterns in mood and behaviour, you are unlikely to narrow down any specific triggers or causes - this is what the Discovery Journal primarily focuses on.
Included in every journal is a double page which explains each section in detail and how to complete it, so you aren’t left high and dry trying to figure anything out, though it’s likely you won’t need to refer back to it after the first entry. It really is very simple to get started.
Give it a try and put your thoughts down on paper; it can be a truly liberating and life-changing experience.
Danielle Wathes is the founder of the Discovery Journal (discoveryjournal.co.uk)