I Started Journaling to Help With Anxiety, and This Is the Result
Welcome to Byrdie UK's Wellness Week. Over the next seven days, you'll get to read about how to make your body, mind and, well, your life more balanced. We know it's not January but wellness has become an all-year-round focus for many and with autumn on the way (read: cold and flu season), now seems like a good time to talk about, not just keeping well but, boosting our wellness from all angles. From the best tech to improve your health to the small tweaks anyone can do to bring you more happiness, we've thought about everything you might want to factor a little more wellness into your life with ease. Today, we're talking about journaling and how it improved one editor's anxiety.
Ever wake up in the middle of the night unable to sleep because your mind is racing? Maybe you find it hard to even fall asleep because you're thinking about the day's events. I know I've done both. Recently, probably because of the warmer weather, I found it even harder. And when I did, I didn't stay asleep for long. I mean, I say it was the warmer weather, but I also know it's because I was feeling more anxious than usual.
Some background: I'm a worrier. I'm a full-fledged hypochondriac, always catastrophise everything and seriously once asked my in-laws to create an underground bunker should the apocalypse come. But while I can usually push my worries aside and sleep (surprising, I know, considering the above), lately I was having more trouble. The thing about anxiety is that you never know when it's going to crop back up again. You could be feeling fine, and then all of a sudden it comes back.
Of course, I'd tried breathing techniques, done a touch of mindfulness and sprayed my pillow with This Works Sleep Spray (£18), but nothing was working. I'm probably not a alone, according to a study last year, anxiety is a bigger problem than depression—more than 8 million suffer from the condition in the UK, with the under-35 set being the most affected.
After googling tips on how to cope (because obviously), I discovered that journaling might be the answer. To really try it out, I decided to start writing down my thoughts for a month and then see how I felt about it at the end of the experiment. Keep scrolling to see how to write your journal and why it could be great for keeping your anxiety in check.
Why does journaling help?
There's one big reason it helps, and it's because it helps you organise your thoughts better. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, "When you have a problem and you're stressed, keeping a journal can help you identify what's causing that stress or anxiety. Then, once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and, in turn, reduce stress."
In a piece published by Harvard Medical School, there were a few findings that revealed how writing can help stress. One study conducted by James W. Pennebaker, who currently chairs the psychology department at the University of Texas, Austin, asked 46 healthy college students to write about "either personally traumatic life events or trivial topics" for 15 minutes on four consecutive days. Six months following the experiment, those who had written about traumatic events visited the health centre less often.
How to journal
There are quite a few different ways to do this. Personally, I like to do a mix of two approaches. One is to write anything and everything as it pops into my head, not caring about my handwriting. The other is to then bullet point what any current concerns at the bottom. I find this helps me to pin down exactly what I'm worried about.
We decided to ask an expert on how they journal so we spoke to Kikki.K founder Kristina Karlsson, who revealed that she keeps a few journals. Every morning, to help with pressure, she writes "three pages of unconscious writing." Using a thin book (which she can destroy), she writes three pages of A5 size, switching between English and Swedish, and doesn't care about spelling mistakes or handwriting.
"It's just getting things out of my head," she tells us. "This is one way to to cope with certain things, particularly when you've got a lot of work on." She will then destroy the pages, as she feels it wouldn't help to analyse it. However, she also has another journal which she calls her life journal. Here is where she writes about things she wants to remember "like what I'm grateful for."
While you don't have to throw pages away, it might be a good idea to keep a more negative journal separate from your more positive writing.
I hadn't given much thought on how I would do my journaling initially, but the format I came up with was this: one page per day, date top right, and a couple of bullet points at the end (sort of like an abridged version of what I'd written). Over the course of a month, every day, before I went to bed, I would write in my journal. But the big question remains: Did it help? For me, yes.
Even on nights when I really did feel like I could fall asleep immediately, I still decided to write about the day. The thing was, however, if I wasn't worrying about anything, then I struggled to write anything down. That said, I took the approach of writing down events that had happened in the day. Over the month, I found that not only did I get to sleep better, but I also stayed asleep longer and didn't have as crazy dreams (which always makes me feel like I'm sleeping better). As a bonus, I feel like my writing has improved, so I'm going to continue doing it.