In my first year of college, I was anxious all the time. It was likely a result of not sleeping enough combined with stress. The pinching feeling in my chest haunted me to the extent that I couldn’t sleep at night.

For me, anxiety manifests in a quick heartbeat and a tight feeling in my chest, despite the fact that it simultaneously feels like my chest will explode.

Anxiety looks different for every person experiencing it, and it has many different triggers — I feel anxious when I am overwhelmed, worried, or frustrated.

The summer after my first year of college, I started journaling. How to journal for anxiety and depression starts not for the same reasons for all people. Originally, it was meant to be a means to organize my thoughts and identify my personal beliefs. As I began to write more, it became a release of my unfiltered thoughts.

Journaling calms me down, not just because I can see my thoughts on paper, but because writing down my thoughts physically slows them down.

Since conscious energy can only be focused on one task at a time, it’s hard for me to think faster than I can write. Putting my thoughts on paper helps me curb the speed that my mind can race. Instead of being overwhelmed by the abundance and severity of my thoughts, I am only able to think about what I am writing. I write about:

1. What are my worries and fears?

Having the thoughts that haunt me and keep me up at night on paper helps me stay organized and reflect on what I am spending my mental energy on.

Looking at these worries and fears, I can identify which ones are out of my control and which ones I can take responsibility for.

It is much easier to say than to put into practice, but I try my best to let go of the unreasonable worries that I have no control over. Sometimes I will have morbid thoughts about my loved ones dying, or a natural disaster occurring or having my limbs severed. Even writing this, I shudder at the thoughts.

However, when I write down these fears, it becomes noticeable to me how irrational and improbable these events are. And even if it were to happen, I choose to focus on how grateful I am for my current state of life instead.

For the most part, I have some say in solving the problems I face. While I cannot control the outcome, I can control my actions.

There are two types of worries:

For the former, I focus on my actions and how I can get what I want. But before concluding, I always write: The outcome is not a result of my actions.

For example, if I have an important exam that I am stressed about, I will form a study plan and focus on how to study what I can. In other words, I prepare for the exam the best that I can. However, I ultimately know that the outcome (my grade) will depend on the structure and difficulty of the exam as well as a potential curve.

An important note that I keep in mind: Just because the outcome is not a direct result of my actions does not mean I am devoid of responsibility.

For the latter category, problems that are solely mine to solve, I identify the parts of the problem that are easiest to fix, then write down concrete steps that I can take tomorrow to fix it.

For example, if I am unsatisfied with my weight, the first step would be to stop eating hot Cheetos at 10 pm. Another easy fix would be to take a walk every day and incorporate HIIT workouts into my routine 3 times a week.

2. What is my ideal situation in this area of life?

Looking at my worries and fears, I then write about the exact opposite. I brainstorm what my dream would be in that area of life.

By focusing on the potential that tomorrow holds, I become excited about the future.

I am the type of person that likes to have a general direction of pursuit. I don’t like to wait for life to carry me; I’d rather shape my own course. Because of this, anxiety will often appear when I feel directionless.

By writing down my fears and goals in prominent areas of my life, I become calmer as I craft a direction to aim toward.

3. What am I grateful for?

Writing down what I am most grateful for helps me see the light in my present situation and realize what is most important to me.

Looking back at my writings of gratitude, I notice that I mention family, friends, and feeling loved in my journal most often.

I also like to brainstorm ways that I can show love and appreciation to who and what I am most grateful for, whether it’s sending a text to a friend I miss or making a promise to call my parents.

Instead of spending my energy worrying, journaling has helped me reorient my focus to the positive.

How to Journal for Anxiety and Depression and It’s Hidden Advantages

The time I didn’t write down my thoughts.

Recently, I couldn’t sleep because I was anxious about a personal issue. I was exhausted, and my lazy brain rationalized that I was too tired to turn on the light, pick up my journal and pen, and write.

However, trying to work out my thoughts in my head proved contradictory. I ended up forgetting my train of thought easily and getting frustrated with myself. I also tried to distract myself by thinking of something else, or nothing at all. These tactics failed me, and I stayed wide awake in bed for 4 hours.

Journaling, on the other hand, not only helps me reflect on what I am scared of, but it also gives me direction for tomorrow. An accidental result of journaling at night was that I became more of a morning person as well. I would wake up in the morning excited to go about my day because I had a plan for it.

By writing down how I could attack the worries that were under my control and then taking one step every day, my anxiety has greatly diminished since my freshman year of college.

Journaling helps me curb anxiety by slowing down the rate that my thoughts can flow.

I write about my worries and fears, dreams, and practice gratitude.

Through unexpected side effects, journaling can help with more than anxiety. It helps keep my thoughts organized, increases retention improves memory, and is an effective tool of emotional release.