Stress & Anxiety Relief: Journaling to Calm Your Mind

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

Perhaps you've heard the advice of writing down your feelings, particularly difficult ones, in order to get them together to articulate them to a loved one. Some people even write letters that they never send, just to get the words out and move past them. Turns out there is a lot of value in journaling to help with stress and anxiety, which makes a lot of sense. Your words are powerful, and journaling is a wonderful way to articulate your feelings, wants, and fears.

Journaling is now a popular practice involving maintaining a diary or journal in which thoughts and feelings about life’s events are explored. It can be a life-planning book that we write ourselves, an outlet for our creativity, or a place where we can vent our emotions. (1)

Journaling can help us navigate issues in different areas of our lives. The practice can help us identify the parts of our lives that cause us the most stress, and also things we like or don’t like about ourselves or situations, leading to better emotional health. (1)

It’s a way to get valuable feedback from ourselves, so we can continue to make improvements in our lives that matter to us. With some self-discovery and a bit of gratitude, with journaling, we can become the person responsible for our own happiness. (1)

A Calming Journey With Journaling

If you were a teenager who kept a diary under your mattress, you may recall how liberating it was to write down all the youthful emotions. With the power of paper, we can write a letter of peace to ourselves, at any stage in our lives.

Journaling can help us to:

  1. Manage anxiety (2)
  2. Reduce stress (2)
  3. Cope with depression (1,6)

Constant worrying, stress, and anxiety can absorb much of our brain’s cognitive resources. People who struggle with worry are constantly multitasking: they are doing one thing, while simultaneously attempting to control and suppress their anxieties. (2)

Putting thoughts on paper can be a powerful way to express our feelings, to heal from trauma, or simply to inspire ourselves, or lift our spirits. (2)

Studies On Scribbling Thoughts Down

A recent study from Michigan State found that when we communicate our worries through expressive writing, our cognitive resources are freed up to focus on any present task at hand. (2)

College students who were classified as chronically anxious completed a computer-based “flanker mission” that assessed response accuracy and reaction times for the study. Around half of the participants wrote for eight minutes before the task about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the upcoming task; the other half, in the control condition, wrote about what they did the day before.

While the two groups performed at the same level for speed and accuracy, the expressive-writing group performed the flanker task more efficiently. Using electroencephalography, researchers were able to confirm that this group used fewer brain resources in performing their task. (2)

Another study which was performed by UCLA psychologists using brain imaging, revealed why verbalizing our feelings can have therapeutic effects on the brain, reducing sadness, anger, and pain. (3)

The activation of the amygdala (the brain’s emotional region) increased when participants looked at a picture of an angry face. But their emotional response was significantly diminished once they started associating words with pictures. (3)

The study concluded that a journaling session can lower our brain’s reactions, making them less intense, allowing our feelings to become more elaborate, and that written words can reduce the severity of a traumatic experience. (3)

How To Journal For Newbies 

There are lots of ideas out there about what’s good for us, but there is nobody like ourselves to instinctively or intuitively know what’s best. That’s why journaling is so great. 

Who knows us better than ourselves? Who better, to plan our lives, hone in on our feelings, or examine our goals and dreams? We can even keep ourselves accountable. 

To get the best results and enjoyment factor, here are a few tips to get self-help scribbling started in style: 

  • Buy a journal and pen.
  • To build the habit, set aside a regular time every day. 
  • In the beginning, write directly before bed or first thing in the morning, for routine. 
  • Don’t worry about what to write. 
  • Set a scene. Light a candle, burn some incense, or play some music. Try applying 1-2 pumps of Be Serene Instant Relief to your temples or wrists, then just sit back and feel the calm wash over you.

‘What to write’ is probably the biggest mystery. It’s best to start by writing whatever we wish. Our goals, what we are grateful for, and our stressors and problems, are all a great start.

To reap the full benefits of journaling, we should also consider other healthy lifestyle factors that can further enhance the progress we make in our lives through journaling. Meditation, a healthy diet, exercise, plenty of sleep, and staying away from alcohol and drugs, are other healing modalities recommended for a long and healthy life. (1)

Joyous Benefits Of Journaling 

For stress and anxiety relief, journaling for stress allows us to sort out and clarify our thoughts and emotions. It is thought that journaling can let us reflect upon our recent experiences, by looking back at past journal entries, and give us time to reflect on our feelings and emotions so that we can better understand them. Journaling for stress can start us on a way forward to less anxiety with more calm in our lives. (4)

There are other benefits also. An improved immune system, especially in those with living conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, cystic fibrosis, and also poor sleepers, has been noted in studies. (5)

Even those suffering from chronic pelvic pain, and post-op patients too, have benefited from expressive writing programs. (5)

In other studies journaling has been used with prison inmates, females with poor body image, PTSD sufferers, caregivers, children with alcoholic parents, and also those suffering from traumatic relationship breakdowns. All have had positive, recorded results in the symptomatology and other aspects of psychological health conditions, with no negative factors reported. (5)

The Voice Within, Released

Without upsetting ourselves or those we care for, journaling is a great way to convey tough feelings like rage and frustration and can be a better way to let go of negative feelings and thoughts, so we can move on to a better place. (4)

So start listening to the voice within. Grab a pen and paper (or a computer screen if preferred), and start on the way toward a life free from stress and anxiety. We can lift our sights to the highest goals possible, with journaling playing a big part in helping us get there.

Sources:

1 https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?

2 https://cpl.psy.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Schroder-Moran-Moser

3 https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Putting-Feelings-Into-Words-Produces-8047 

4 https://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/journal-for-stress-relief.aspx 

5 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/advances-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/

6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17007812/ 

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About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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