Writing it down: a technique to assist in relieving stress, anxiety and worry

Apr 30, 2020Anxiety, Stress, Thoughts

Writing it down: a technique to assist in relieving stress, anxiety and worry

Woman feeling stressed and anxious

Feeling stressed and anxious?

How are you feeling today?

Do you worry a lot? Feel stressed and anxious and wish that you could stop overthinking about things? Are you looking for a self-help way of managing your thoughts and feelings?

If this is you, writing things down often helps.

What is therapeutic writing?

Writing things down is a powerful way of expressing oneself. Therapeutic writing, also called reflective journaling, journal therapy, journal writing or writing therapy. It is simply a process of writing things down. However, it’s different to writing a diary as the purpose for writing is different. In diary writing, you write about a day so there is a format including a beginning, middle and end. But with journaling, there may not be a structure or any obvious ending. Writing things down in therapeutic journaling is a process of metacognition or to put it more simply, much deeper thinking.

This way of writing can be used as

  • a self-help tool
  • an additional aid when working with a therapist

What is the purpose of therapeutic writing?

There are many ways it can help people. They include:

  • Getting a different perspective on things.
  • Rehearsing something before you say or do it.
  • To become more aware of your own situation, thoughts and feelings.
  • To organise your thoughts and feelings.
  • To consider your values and beliefs.
  • To reflect on an incident.
  • To gain more knowledge and skills.
  • To improve a mental health condition.
  • To relieve tension.
  • To bring clarity to your thoughts and actions.
  • To help you connect to your spiritual side.
  • To help to understand your relationships.
  • To value your experiences.
  • It may improve your immune system.

What are the benefits of writing things down?

The benefits of writing things down are that writing for most people is simple to do, it doesn’t cost much more than your time, and you can be in control of how much time you devote to it. Finally you can write at a time that suits you. It doesn’t need to be every day either. Journaling is also a very personal way of dealing with your stress and anxiety.

Where did this process originate?

This technique is thought to have originated in the 1930s by Marian Milner but became more popular from 1960 through the work of Ira Progoff. This was a time when counselling and psychotherapy was changing from psychoanalytic work to a more humanistic approach.

What can therapeutic writing help with?

Therapeutic writing can be used in most areas of counselling and psychotherapy. As a result, it is particularly helpful for people who are suffering from feelings of stress and anxiety, worry, depression, and grief.

What do you need to do?

It’s easy. Allocate yourself some time in the week. It might be once a week, twice a week or more times. Give yourself about 10- 15 minutes because you don’t want this process to take over your day. Choose a quiet time when you are unlikely to be disturbed.

Decide if you are going to write in a book or on separate sheets of paper that you can keep in a folder. Some people like to write things down electronically on a computer or their phone.

What can I write?

People might feel stuck if they are not used to writing but here are a few ways to get started.

  • Write about whatever comes into your mind. Just let it flow onto the paper.
  • Write about problems or negative things that are on your mind.
  • Write down a list of worries.
  • Write you’re all the things that are making you feel stressed.
  • Write about positive things such as things you are grateful for.
  • Tell a story about anything related to how you are thinking or feeling.
  • Draw pictures.
  • Stick things that you have cut out onto the paper or other pictures onto your computer page that have meaning to you.
  • Recall any dreams.
  • Write an imaginary letter to someone.
  • Write a poem or a song.

Be creative. Use different coloured pens or fonts. Write in large or small fonts. Use coloured paper. Make pictures, diagrams and mind maps. Sing or hum if you like to do that while you are writing. You could also put some music on. Write outside or indoors. Choose a different room to write in sometimes if you can. Anything that is creative will help you to write.

Tips on journal writing

There are a few things that can help you during this process.

  • Time management. Check the time you start and don’t write for a longer than your allocated time.
  • Protect your writing from other people, now and in the future. All electronic journals should be password protected. Any handwritten journals should be written with your own codes or locked away especially if you are going to write down your deepest secrets.
  • Read what you have written in your previous account so that you can continue on the same subject if you want to or reflect on how you are feeling now.
  • Don’t give yourself additional worry by being too concerned about your spelling or grammar. No one is going to see your journal unless you want them to.
  • If writing brings up past traumatic experiences and emotions that make you feel worse, stop and seek help from your doctor or a counsellor.

Ways you can use journals with a counsellor

Remember writing things down doesn’t replace the help that a counsellor can provide with journaling because they use different techniques and counsellors give you lots of support if things feel tough. They have also had training on many other techniques. So they have a toolkit of help!

Any counsellor can use journaling with clients in their work. Nevertheless, exercises between sessions is a common format of Cognitive Behavioural Therapists (CBT).

A counsellor may ask you to write a journal to provide a talking point for sessions and different perspectives to help. For example, a counsellor will question to help you to see a different perspective to your stress and anxiety. They might ask you to write down things to boost your motivation or help you to move on from negative worries that keep you in a rut. For example, these could be exercises such as stem writing (you complete a sentence) or list writing. The list could be a list of achievements, a list of things you love to do or a list of things you are grateful for.

This blog has highlighted a useful technique that can help people who are suffering from stress, anxiety and worry. Many techniques like this are self-help techniques, however, if your negative feelings go on for longer than a couple of weeks you are advised to seek help from your doctor or counsellor.



Awaken the Change is about Focusing Minds for Positive Results

Awaken the Change is a self-help service providing education and information.

Linda sees clients at her practice in Bournemouth, in the UK. She is also happy to provide online help via webcam for hypnotherapy, counselling and supervision. Counselling and supervision can also be provided by telephone.

Linda is an accredited trainer and supervisor.

Linda Witchell
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