You might already know some self-help methods of reducing anxiety. Some examples are getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and taking the time to practice yoga, meditate, or use other relaxation methods. Did you know that journaling can also help you manage anxiety? If you or your teenager is struggling with scary thoughts, panic attacks, or other manifestations of anxiety, it’s possible that keeping a thought journal can help. Read on for tips on integrating this self-help method into your anxiety-reducing regimen.
What Is Journaling?
Journaling is, quite simply, writing down your thoughts. This can take many different forms. Traditionally, journaling is done by hand in a bound book with lines, but that doesn’t mean that you have to hand your teenager a blank journal and a pen and tell him or her to get started. Your child might rather journal in a sketchbook, where they can combine drawings with writing. Or maybe a digital journal kept on a laptop or even a phone app would be more appealing to today’s modern teens.
While the mode of writing down ideas doesn’t really matter, what is important is that your teen feels free to write his or her thoughts and ideas down in a place where they won’t be seen by anyone else. Assure your son or daughter that you will not be reading anything in the journal, whether it’s an old-fashioned written journal or typed on a smartphone. A journal should be a place for your teen to express him- or herself without worrying about being judged and you should respect his or her privacy in almost all cases.
How Journaling Helps Manage Anxiety and Stress
There are several reasons why journaling can help manage anxiety. Here are a few:
Frees the Mind – The first is that once a thought is on paper, it can free the mind from focusing on it. You’ve probably experienced this when you had something that you had to remember to do. You might focus on the thought until you get a chance to write it down (or put it in your phone’s calendar), then you were able to relax. It’s the same thing with stressful thoughts; sometimes just writing them down can allow your teenager to relax his or her mind.
Finds Patterns – Another way that journaling can help relieve anxiety is by showing your teen patterns that are occurring during times of stress. For example, if he or she notices that they’re writing a lot of negative thoughts after seeing a certain friend, it can lead them to the decision to spend less time with that person because they might be affecting your teen’s stress levels. Your daughter might find that her anxiety is heightened during a specific time of her menstrual cycle. Encourage your teen to keep track of what they’ve eaten, how they’ve slept, and other factors during times of anxiety. You can help them set up a habit tracker to help them keep track of these factors easily without having to write it all out each time.
What If You Don’t Know What to Write?
Many teens will complain that they have no idea what to write when presented with the idea to keep a thought journal. Suggest that they write down their feelings. If that is too broad of a topic, you could recommend that the write the best things that happened that day. Or they could write down how they’re feeling emotionally on a scale from 1 to 10, then expand on why they chose that number.
Another idea is to find a list of journal prompts online. On days that your teen is stuck for an idea, a writing prompt can be just the thing to get their feelings flowing through their fingertips and onto the journal or screen. Assure your teen that they don’t have to complete any given prompt if another idea pops up. Encourage them to go with the flow and write about what they feel is important at that time. Remember, no one will be reading this.
Tips for Journaling Success
One important part of having a thought journal that can help manage anxiety is to write in it regularly. It can be hard to get into the habit of journaling, so ask your teen to commit to writing in the journal for at least five minutes per day for the next 30 days. By the time a month has passed, your child will know whether it’s helping or not. Also, it will have become a habit by that point, so even if they want to skip a day now and then, they will have it ingrained in their minds that the journal is there when it’s needed.
Another tip is to let your teen know that spelling and grammar don’t count. Teens are sometimes reluctant to write in a journal because they’re used to having their papers marked in red for errors. No one will be looking in the journal, and as long as they can read what they’ve written, it doesn’t matter if their handwriting looks terrible or if they don’t use any punctuation. They can write in cartoon form, use profanity, or do whatever they might feel comfortable doing.
Involving a Therapist
While journaling is a great way to manage anxiety, it’s not usually effective as a standalone treatment. In some cases, a teen might want to bring his or her thought journal to counseling appointments to share some entries with a therapist. If that seems like too much of an intrusion, your teen could make a list of themes that are coming up in his or her journal and bring the list to the sessions.
Managing anxiety can be difficult, particularly if it’s being exacerbated by high stress levels, panic attacks, or a diagnosis of OCD, depression, or some other concurrent mental health condition. Journaling is a non-invasive, side-effect-free way of processing emotions and organizing thoughts, so your teen might have a reduction in anxiety symptoms simply by writing down his or her thoughts. Keep in mind that you should still seek help for your teen who is struggling with anxiety; contact his or her primary care doctor if you don’t already have a counselor to turn to.