Dealing with anxiety can feel extremely overwhelming. When an anxious thought pops into our head, it can be difficult to know how to get rid of it. But most of the time, the answer is much simpler than we may think. In fact, it can often be found at the end of your pencil. That’s right – I’m talking about journaling!
Journaling is such an amazing (and speedy!) way of reducing anxiety and sorting out your thoughts. So in this post, I’m going to be showing you 3 fantastic journaling exercises that use cognitive behavioural therapy principles in order to help re-wire your brain and get you thinking differently about your anxious thoughts!
The exercises in this post will not only help you think about your anxiety differently, but they’ll also help you reduce any bad habits that are making your anxiety worse.
Just want to let ya know: The information and tips on this website are from my personal experience with anxiety and are not a substitute for any type of medical, psychological or health advice. My goal is to empower people struggling with anxiety in non-traditional ways that they can do alongside professional help.
There is always help out there, and you can find a mental health professional locally, through your doctor, or through an online directory like this one. This is a link to a great article with affordable therapy options and this is an affiliate link to a great online therapy option. If you are in a crisis, there’s a list of help hotlines here. You are not alone!!
Here are some common things that most of us do when we’re feeling anxious:
- Sometimes we accept the anxiety we have and never dig further. This is harmful because then we don’t get to the root of our anxiety which will prevent us from being able to fix that fear
- Sometimes we really believe our fears and give them much more power then they deserve
- Sometimes we’ll do certain behaviours (such as avoiding certain situations), which will also cause us to feel more anxious because then these situations become much bigger and built up in our heads
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How journaling and writing down your thoughts will help you if you are experiencing anxiety
Journaling allows you to gain a different perspective towards your thoughts and fears.
This will allow you to escape from your little “anxiety bubble” and help you see the situation from a more logical point of view.
Let’s look at the first exercise, which covers the identify portion.
The 5 Why’s Exercise
1. Write down the anxious thought, fear, or mental hold-back that is troubling you.
2. Ask yourself “why am I having this thought?” or “why do I feel this way?”. Does it remind you of a past stressful experience or trauma?
3. Based on your answer above, ask yourself why you feel that way now.
4. Ask yourself ‘why’ again 3 more times, each time trying to dig deeper into your thoughts and feelings.
5. Based on those answers, you should hopefully have an idea of what the root cause behind your fearful thought is.
Is this how I should feel about this now?
Can I reframe the way I think about this past event (i.e. stop blaming myself or others and just accept it for what it was)?
If/when I have this thought again, is there a better way I can reframe it?
How it works:
This exercise is helps you become more aware for your thoughts and fears. We often get so caught up in our anxious thoughts that we completely forget to ask “why?”. You might realize that this thought is caused by something untrue (maybe a misinformed fact or your interpreted someone’s behaviour in the wrong way) or something that poses a lot less risk than you thought.
Related Article: 10 Habits That Are Fuelling Your Anxiety
Thought Dissection Exercise
This actually combines many different cognitive behavioural principles. It’s basically a one-stop exercise for challenging your anxious thoughts.
It’s called a “thought dissection” because the idea is to pick apart your thoughts (i.e. dissect them) to understand them better.
How it works:
As I said, it’s based on proven cognitive behavioural principles.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a form of therapy that helps you to challenge your thoughts and behaviours that perpetuate your anxiety cycle (if you want to learn more about how your anxiety cycle works, check out this post!)
If you can take a deeper look at your thoughts, and challenge the thoughts or behaviours that are irrational or unhelpful to you and causing you to feel more anxious, then you can start retraining your mind to think differently (that is, less anxiously).
How to do the Thought Dissection Exercise:
- Write down your fear/anxious thought.
- Try to identify if this is one of the common cognitive distortions.
- If this is a common cognitive distortion, try to un-distort this anxious thought.
- Write down a counter-statement to your original anxious thought/fear.
- Assess the likelihood of this fear actually happening.
- How could you lessen the impact if this fear actually happened?
- What are your strengths that would help you handle this fear?
- Write down a list of thoughts surrounding your fear that are allowed and not allowed. Try to determine which ones are healthy, rational thoughts vs. unhealthy irrational thoughts.
*Helpful tip on how to identify irrational thoughts*: If deep down you know that a though is not true/won’t happen, this is a pretty good indicator that it’s an irrational thought. Plus, an irrational thought is almost always accompanied by the phrase: “what if?”.
It can be nearly impossible to shake these irrational or anxious thoughts completely, which is why it’s crucial to just practice not listening to them and coming up with alternative thoughts and behaviours that will help you to be less anxious.
This is where the next two steps come in.
Created New Thoughts and Behaviours Exercise
This exercise is super simple.
For every bad/unhealthy thought or behaviour you have, try writing down a new and better thought or behaviour that you can start doing
It may seem very basic, but sometimes basic is just what you need!
How It Works:
This is going to help you override the thoughts and behaviours that perpetuate your anxiety cycle. You can use this for any and all of your anxious thoughts as well as your anxious behaviours.
And the ONE secret ingredient that so many people forget…
Nothing changes overnight. You have to practice implementing these newer, better thoughts and behaviours until they become totally natural!
Related Article: 3 Elements You Must Understand In Order to Overcome Anxiety
Overcoming anxiety is a skill. And just like any other skill, you have to practice the steps in order to master them.
As an engineering graduate, business owner, and anxiety-recoverer, I’ve had to develop a lot of new skills.
And every time, the process is the same: figure out what you need to do, learn how to do it, then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
It’s that simple! And honestly, it’s taken me SO far! And it doesn’t hurt to get the help of a professional too!