All the Ways a Worry Journal Could Make Your Life Better
Despite the influx of new technologies, the old-school method of putting pen to paper luckily still exists, and for good reason. Whether you're writing about meaningful experiences, exercising your creativity, or letting emotions flow as a means of therapeutic expression, the tradition of journaling has been used for generations and doesn't seem to be going anywhere.
Many experts have suggested journals as a way of treating or helping with an array of things, such as reducing stress and anxiety, improving self-awareness, encouraging imagination, and getting a better night's sleep. And of course, there's food journaling to help you lose weight or bullet journaling to achieve your goals.
Stress, anxiety, and insomnia can be so intertwined that you spend your day worrying about the night, and the night worrying about how the following day will be affected by all your tossing and turning. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleeping disorders, with another 20 million or so reporting occasional issues with sleep. On top of that, stress and anxiety can cause new sleep problems for some people, while also making existing problems worse for those who already have them, reports the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
This complicated relationship can wreak havoc on not just your sleep, but your energy level while awake and your emotional health throughout the following day. Worrying about something (or nothing) when you go to bed can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. (In fact, worrying about your health can actually make you sick.) Then you begin to worry about not sleeping well and how that will affect you tomorrow, and the unhealthy cycle repeats.
With more and more people heading to the doctor for relief from stress, anxiety, and insomnia, experts are taking to a more lifestyle-focused approach to treatment: asking patients to keep a written record of their thoughts, fears, and worries.
Enter the worry journal. Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in sleep disorders and treatments who regularly appears on the The Dr. Oz Show, says he's a big proponent of the practice because "it's a great way to get thoughts out of your head before bed." (You could also try this yoga and meditation practice to help you fall asleep faster.)
"Most people who have insomnia tell me 'I can't turn off my brain!'" says Breus. "I usually recommend that people use a journal about three hours before bed. If they are journaling just before lights out, I ask them to create a gratitude list, which is more positive."
Your worry journal doesn't need to be simply a bedtime ritual either. If you're frantic in the middle of the day, write down your worries-let it all out. Day-to-day anxiety and stress can sneak in at any time, whether you've gotten a full night's sleep or not, and it can really mess with your productivity, peace of mind, and mood. A worry journal lets you dig deep to find out why worry creeps into your life. Recording these experiences, what you were doing at the time anxiety hit, what your specific worries are, can help either resolve the issue through the clarity of writing down the problem, or lighten the emotional burden you feel by allowing yourself to express your concerns on paper. (Coloring has been shown to relieve stress, too. Try it with one of these awesome adult coloring books.)
To get started with your own worry journal, Breus suggests dividing your notebook into different sections. Designate different pages or columns that are meant for things you "need to take care of," things you "can't forget to do," and things you're "so worried about." Write down all your thoughts or worries that fall into these categories. Make sure to leave space for problem-solving ideas.
Be careful not to judge your worries, as that may lead to you censoring yourself, Breus says. Instead, think of your worry journal as a private, safe space to express anything on your mind. The hope is that by putting thoughts on paper, you might just be able to change your perspective on them, come up with useful solutions, or at the very least get out some of the feeling weighing you down.