Writing Your Worries Away

Writing your thoughts and feelings can relieve stress, improve your mental health

By Daniel Baldwin

Kate Warden

For those of you who are dealing with a lot of stress right now, have a mental problem or are dealing with any other problems in life, just stop whatever you are doing, grab a pen and a sheet of paper and write how you feel.

Write down the problems that you are currently dealing with and how you feel about them.

Once you are done, ask or think to yourself how you feel now after writing.

Do you feel the same; any better or worse? Have you gotten rid of all the stress and worries just by writing them down on a sheet of paper?

Whether this writing practice has helped you or not, it is the best and effective way to reduce stress and anxiety, according to verywellmind.com, a website focusing on mental health issues.

Writing your thoughts and feelings down on paper (also known as journaling) helps gain control of your emotions, improves your mental health and gets rid of all the stress that you are currently dealing with, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center’s website.

Kate Warden, a psychologist and director of behavioral medicine at MVHS, said she offered this sort of writing practice to most of her patients. Journaling, to Warden’s perspective, helps get the worries out of peoples’ heads. Journaling helps people define their problem, get more details on it, and find solutions to it.

“[Journaling] helps people get a better understanding of the problems they’re facing, so that we can take a look at what they’re actually worried about and if it’s ruminating on something,” Warden said. “It could help us track behaviors and feelings that are problematic for us and it simply can help get the worries out of our head. It can define the problem, get more details, and evaluate solutions.”

Warden said journaling has worked for some of her patients. Warden encourages her patients to write their thoughts and feelings daily, but some only do it when they feel sad or depressed.

“We often encourage people to have healthy habits regardless of how they’re feeling,” Warden said. “It could help during those times when they feel sad or depressed, but I think it could also be helpful to keep a journal of some kind and do it consistently, but it’s not necessary. Some people do it for a period of time and then they feel better and don’t do it anymore, but when they start to feel bad again, they come back to the journal. Some people really love it and they do it all the time. It really depends on that person.”

Warden also said that there are different kinds of journaling. There is free thought journaling where the person writes whatever is on their mind today. Then there are thought and behavioral logs, a more specific type of journaling.

“Free thought logs are exactly what they sound like,” Warden said. “At the end of the day or during the day you just write down the thoughts or worries that you have. They just journal whatever is on their minds for that day. Sometimes there’s a specific recommendation to track certain types of thoughts. We have people keep thought or behavioral logs to kind of track their thoughts or behaviors. If a patient comes in and they say that they have anxiety, then we’ll explore the thoughts that they have from their anxiety, how they feel, and what behaviors manifest from that.

Then we will ask them to specifically track or journal those thoughts or feelings throughout the week, and then when they come back, we can take a look and see if any of our interventions have worked or not and if we need to change our treatment.”

‘[Journaling] could help us track behaviors and feelings that are problematic for us and it simply can help get the worries out of our head. It can define the problem, get more details, and evaluate solutions.’

Kate Warden, Psychologist and director of behavioral medicine at MVHS

MVHS communications specialist Tara Swanson has gotten into journaling. She has been doing it for 22 years.

“I do this practice in the morning about three times a week,” Swanson said. “I do this to access feelings perhaps I was avoiding before. The day is always a little better when I try to do a little problem solving in my journaling process. I write about my day, what was bad about it, what was good about it. I write about what’s going on with me, with friends, family members, and work.”

Swanson said that journaling brightens her spirit, improves her mental health and helps her find a new perspective in life.

“The key for me is to try to find the positive aspects of my situation,” Swanson said. “Writing a list of things I’m thankful for puts negative things in a better perspective. Throughout the day, my mind keeps working on thoughts I wrote down that morning and it helps me find new perspective. I try to ask myself difficult questions and answer them honestly. What is stressing me out? Why? What would make it better or easier to face? It’s a creative process. Admitting my feelings in writing is different than just thinking it to myself. When I write down, it becomes real, concrete. I can figure out my next steps once I identify the cause of stress and anxiety.”

Swanson does not see journaling as the best No. 1 way to relieve stress and anxiety. She just sees this writing exercise as one of many ways to deal with it.

“This is one of several ways I use to deal with stress and anxiety,” Swanson said. “There is no one ‘best way,’ but rather several different activities that work together to relieve stress and anxiety.”