Journaling and Thought Records: How Journaling Helps With Anxiety
Intrusive thoughts are not unusual. Often our most automatic thoughts are negative, and, left unchecked, these can develop into ingrained negative ways of thinking.
Negative thinking patterns can have a huge impact on our lives - you might find yourself avoiding certain situations that set off your negative thoughts. This can mean you miss opportunities to do the things you enjoy.
However, similarly, it is possible to ‘rewire’ our minds to think in more helpful ways. Whether you write them on a piece of paper or in a daily planner, thought records can help you to view your thoughts in a more balanced way.
How Thought Records Help With Anxiety
Your first question might be: ‘what exactly are thought records?’ A thought record is a tool used as part of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
It involves writing down your thoughts, either in a journal or on a piece of paper, and examining them in more detail. Thought records break the cycle of automatic thinking - in which you immediately assume that your thoughts are real and accurate.
Writing down a thought record also helps with anxiety, because you can separate your emotional responses from the facts of the situation. Through this examination, you can cut through all the fear and anxiety to discover what is actually true.
You may discover that your thought wasn’t based in reality at all. Even if there is an issue, you can use thought records to uncover a more balanced, positive way of managing the situation.
What to Write in a Thought Record
There are several key steps to follow when writing a thought record, and these are listed below. Try to complete them all to get the most accurate picture of your anxiety, and how your mental health has improved through the process.
- You should first consider what was happening when the thought first came on. Where were you? What were you doing? Was your day going well beforehand? Was something on your mind? (e.g. ‘I was at home, feeling anxious about going out.’)
- Write down the thought that bothered you. (e.g. ‘I thought if I went out, I might have a bad panic attack and die.’)
- Underneath, create two columns. On one side, write down the ‘evidence’ that made you believe the thought was real. (e.g. ‘The tight feeling in my chest is painful when I have panic attacks.’)
- On the other side, write all the ‘evidence’ that the thought is not real. (e.g. ‘I’m very healthy’, ‘Panic attacks can’t cause you to die like that’, etc)
- Investigate the thought. Ask yourself questions about the thought. Why was the thought so anxiety-inducing? What would happen if it came true? What could you do to manage that situation? (e.g. ‘I’m more scared of how I feel during the attack’, ‘If a panic attack happens, I can use mindfulness to calm my breathing.’
- Write some alternative, balanced responses to the thought. (e.g. ‘I’ve had panic attacks before, and I’ve always dealt well with them. I will come through this!’)
- Record your feelings at the end of the exercise - has your anxiety improved?
Journaling and Mental Health: Where to Start With a Daily Planner for Anxiety
When you’re suffering from ill mental health, it takes time to unravel negative thinking patterns. To really boost your recovery from anxiety, you should keep thought records consistently in a journal or daily planner.
Each day record your intrusive thoughts in the daily planner, along with the analysis detailed above, including how you felt at the time of the thoughts, the evidence for and against, and alternative, balanced responses.
It can help to manage your recovery in your daily planner as you would other goals. When anxiety is at its worst, it can be very easy to settle into a comfort zone.
Set yourself daily, weekly and monthly anxiety goals in your daily planner to gradually build towards the experiences that frighten you the most. For example, if you feel anxious about going into town, your first daily goal might simply be to walk down the street. You might gradually build up to going into shops.
If you feel your anxiety is becoming unmanageable, it’s important to seek support from your local services, as well. Mental health recovery is a gradual process, so don’t pressure yourself to overcome intrusive thoughts right away. There may be days when it’s better not to over-analyse your intrusive thoughts, and instead focus on a different anxiety management technique, like mindfulness.
However, in most cases, thought records are an invaluable tool to uncover the reality behind intrusive thoughts, and rewire our thinking processes.