Jon Johnston

Controlling Anxiety Through Journaling – Part One

This is part one of a three-part series on Controlling Anxiety Through Journaling.

Part Two
Part Three

Journaling is the act of writing your thoughts and feelings regularly so that you can better understand them. Journaling was called “keeping a diary” years ago, but that brings up images of teenage girls in their bedroom hand writing in a notebook protected by a cheesy lock that wouldn’t deter an interested mouse.

“Journaling” sounds much more mature than “keeping a diary”, doesn’t it?

Of course it does. This is why there is a cottage industry built around journaling; you can go to Amazon and buy fancy books with writing prompts so you can journal in style. I don’t mean to be too snarky; journaling has significant benefits and that’s what we’re going to learn in this chapter.

Keeping track of your life provides an ongoing account about where you’ve been and where you’re going. It provides emotional release. It may sound goofy, but journaling can increase your health. In a 1999 study, “Effects of Writing About Stressful Experiences on Symptom Reduction in Patients With Asthma or Rheumatoid Arthritis”, participants who were chronically ill with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis were asked to write an essay expressing their thoughts and feelings about a traumatic experience. Those who did had “clinically relevant changes in health status” compared with those in a control group who wrote about unimportant subjects. This means that there was a measurable change in health for those who wrote about their trauma. That’s amazing.

A 2018 article in “Advances In Psychiatric Treatment” titled “Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing” reported:
Writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health, in non-clinical and clinical populations. In the expressive writing paradigm, participants are asked to write about such events for 15–20 minutes on 3–5 occasions. Those who do so generally have significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who write about neutral topics.

Journaling is an incredibly useful tool in the fight against anxiety and depression. I found journaling to be extremely beneficial. If you don’t believe me, believe the science.I started journaling because I wanted to understand how to best handle my health. I was diagnosed with an anoxic brain injury and because of it I have chronic headaches. I wake up with a headache every morning. On the scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst possible migraine, my headache might be a “2”. It might be an “8”. I sought to find if what I did in my everyday life made a difference in how bad my headaches were.

I now use a journal to write down all aspects of my life. I try to journal every day. It has been useful in determining what effects my health. I have tracked my sleep, diet, activities, and how I feel emotionally and physically. I used it to write my book, “Been Dead, Never Been To Europe”. Writing the book was cathartic in putting my death behind me and allowing me to move on to live life as much as I could.

Warehouse Theory – Explaining Why My Memory Is So Fractured
“Warehouse Theory” is a story I have used to explain why my memory is so fractured after recovering from a heart attack and traumatic brain injury.
Warehouse Theory – Explaining Why My Memory Is So Fractured
“Warehouse Theory” is a story I have used to explain why my memory is so fractured after recovering from a heart attack and traumatic brain injury.

What I discovered by journaling on a regular basis was that sleep was the most important factor of whether I woke up with a “2” or an “8” headache. It’s not perfect. Six years after my death, I have bad days with little to no idea why I am in so much pain.

I journal about my goals. I keep track about what I did for work on any given day. Keeping track of everything allows me to go back to a reference if my customers are asking why we made a decision the way we did, or how we determined the parameters of an IT project.

I journal about what I’m grateful for. Gratitude journaling is one of the ways that you can combine with turning bad thoughts to good, a concept for which we’ll have an entire chapter. It’s a tool to help rewire your brain so that you stop focusing on negative thoughts and start thinking about the good things in your life.

I journal about whatever is bothering me at the time.

Another good thing about journaling – it’s pretty darned close to free. You don’t need anything fancy for journaling. You can buy a simple three-ring binder notebook and handwrite your daily entries. You can use a word processor on your computer. You can use apps specialized for journaling. I prefer to do voice journaling, where I talk into a voice recorder, and have the words transcribed, then keep track of journals in Scrivener, a software application for writers.

Controlling Anxiety Through Journaling – Part Two – Getting Started is the next of this series.

Journaling is not a substitute for therapy or counseling. If your anxiety or depression is overwhelming, consider seeing a professional. Having said that, I know there are people who wouldn’t talk to a therapist if their life was was in danger. This should strike you ironic because many times it is. I am still surprised at the number of people I talk to who don’t understand that anxiety, depression, and stress can cause serious problems with their physical well-being.

In you won’t see a therapist, journaling is at least a next-best option.

Why would you NOT do journaling? I can show a multitude of studies beyond what I included here that show its health benefits. It is easy. It is free. It doesn’t require you to open up to another human being so you won’t feel embarrassed.

I’d honestly like to know. Send me an email – jj@jonjohnston.com – leave a comment here.

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