Your journal is your therapist. It’s not just a place to answer profound questions from “50 things to journal about” lists or to write about what you had for lunch, though there is nothing wrong with either of those ideas. You will also see other journaling ideas in my Journaling Tools section of the site ranging from gratitude to affirmations to help setting up Day One Templates, app reviews, different ways to journal and more, including my Journaling Playbook which you can download to help get started in just a few minutes every day.
But what do I mean by the idea that your journal is your therapist?
Put Anxiety & Fear in The Stress Box
If there is a particularly difficult issue facing you – which could be anything from an emotional issue like the death of a loved one to a problem in a relationship (business or personal), or something that dropped out of the sky into your professional life like redundancy or a legal issue, or even an irrational fear of how something might work out from your life to your children’s school or university choices to current affairs issues like Brexit, the pandemic or how you will find a job – then this is where your Stress Box comes in.
The Stress Box is simply a section in your journal which you reserve for getting intimate with the fears and anxieties that surround this issue. Instead of the issue overcome you, you get to nibble away it the “Big Hairy Animal” and whittle it down to size. I touch on this method in Five Steps to Overcoming Overwhelm, but the Stress Box goes deeper.
Definitions: In general, fear is seen as a reaction to a specific, observable danger, while anxiety is seen as a diffuse, a kind of unfocused, objectless, future-oriented fear (Barlow, 2002). Thus, fear is anxiety that is attached to a specific thing or circumstance (Horwitiz, 2013).
Step 1: Identify The Problem
You cannot move forward until you identify the problem. This may sound simple, but writing down what the problem is has an immediate beneficial effect on the mind. What was, moments before, a shadowy entity haunting the corners of your mind threatening to suffocate you at any moment is now a string of words on a page. And that string of words is something that somebody else just like you has also experienced.
Step 2: How Does It Make You Feel
If you were sitting with a therapist at this point, they would probably ask you how this issue makes you feel. Take some time in stillness without interruption and soul-search. Write down exactly how this issue makes you feel. This is a release. Your journal is private and your safe space. Just write down whatever comes up.
Then ask why. Why do you feel this way? Where does that anxiety or fear come from? Was it something that happened to somebody you know? Did it happen to you before? Did you hear about it in a TV show or on the news?
Step 3: Understand Your Fears
I outlined this technique in my Fear: What is it good for? Confidence post (though it might be better called Turning Fear into Confidence). The technique is “Might, Could, Will” and is preceded by looking at each feeling you have and assessing the trustworthiness of the source of the fear. If your fear is irrational (one of those “everybody says this” sort of things), then this is not very trustworthy. Does “everybody” really say this or only specific people? And who are they? And how much do you really trust the fear they have instilled in you? Is their caution based on fact, or based on their own fears which they are simply passing along.
Remember: All fears are learned. They do not originate from you but are a form of conditioning.
Step 4: Make a Plan & Implement
By now, you should have spent some time looking at the issue facing you and questioning where the fear and anxiety come from. This process should diminish the level of the fear or anxiety into something you are now in control of.
And thats something you can plan solutions to.
This may be as simple as searching the Internet to see how other people dealt with the issue. It may be a comprehensive project plan to deal with the issue to see it through to completion. It may be a resolution to take action that takes you out of your comfort zone. Or that you need to seek professional help from a consultant, coach, specialist, guidance counsellor, support group or therapist. It may be one step or it may be many.
But it is a plan, however broad or detailed it may be at this stage. And when you have a plan you can find a way to overcome the anxiety or fear that sent you spiralling in the first place.
Then take the first step. Once you commit to action, the fear will diminish.
Step 5: Revisit Your Stress Box when Needed
The issue probably won’t go away overnight, though it’s a big win if it does! Come back to what you wrote about your fears and worries whenever you need a reminder that your subconscious wraiths are just illusions and let your Stress Box shine a light of reason on them. Refine your plan as you need to and, if things change which may seem to send you spiralling again, update this Stress Box, or start a new one as an extension of this.
Remember to consolidate your learning if you write a daily journal (such as using the templates in my Journaling Playbook) by summarising your breakthroughs in your “Daily Autopsy” section.