Journaling to Ease Anxiety

Journaling to ease anxiety - a teen girl is journaling - a close-up on her page
© Erin Drago
Give your wandering mind a place to unload

Leah had a terrific support system: a network of friends, family, classmates and a therapist. Even with all those people at her side, Leah’s thoughts often swelled within her and became tough to manage. She needed a way to release or ease her fears and worries to keep them from becoming a wave of anxiety. So before bed, Leah dumped them into her journal: It’s my junior year. My mom recently received a bleak diagnosis. And there are pressures at school. I feel like my life is in crisis.

And then there’s Chloe. She wasn’t experiencing a full-on crisis, but still she was having a hard time. The quiet middle child of five siblings, Chloe often felt overlooked and believed herself to be in the shadows of her siblings. Her big family often left her feeling alone and worried.

What ifs

Her thoughts were filled with questions: What if nobody cares? Or what if I don’t live up to my older siblings’ achievements? What if I’m lonely? Or what if I’m never close to my mom in the way my sister is?

Chloe’s creative mind chased a million what ifs that left her worried and sometimes sad. “It’s not like I can press the mute button and turn this off,” she said. Still, Chloe found a way to express her emotions and ease her mind through artistic journaling—drawing pictures that expressed how she was feeling.

It’s true that dealing with anxiety isn’t as easy as 1-2-3, and there may not be a way to silence your thoughts before they start. But in my work with adolescent girls, I’ve helped them understand that they have more control over the volume of their worry than they realize.

Letting go of even if

The National Institute of Mental Health describes anxiety as a reaction to stress. “It usually involves a persistent feeling of apprehension or dread that doesn’t go away and that interferes with how you live your life. It is a constant thing even if there is no immediate threat around you.”

Even if are the concerning words in that paragraph. Even if there isn’t a threat, you can get worked up and consumed with thoughts that aren’t necessarily true. Anxiety is a guessing game—what could or might happen is not what is actually happening.

Journaling is a practice that helps you put to paper all the questions and wild guesses that flood your mind and overwhelm your emotions. And there are a variety of ways to journal.

Leah retold the stories and concerns of her day and pondered different outcomes through her writing. She even asked herself hard questions as she journaled: Why did that bother me so much? Is my sadness coming out as anger?

The more Leah journaled, the more she came to rely on having a few minutes at the end of the day to get out on paper the thoughts rumbling around in her mind. Writing became therapeutic.

She didn’t necessarily pray or write “dear diary”; instead, she let her words flow, unfiltered, about all she wished she could say aloud.

In a watercolor notebook, Chloe covered the pages in sketches and saturated colors. As soon as the color or sketch was on paper, she found words to wrap around her experiences. She drew her feelings through self-portraits with detailed expressions, sunrises and blobs of intense color. She then wrote about the experience or feeling that inspired the image. Other times she told the story of her day and then painted over it, as if to lighten the experience.

The girls didn’t have the same approach to journaling, but both felt remarkably better from the exercise. Journaling gave their wandering minds a place to unload.

Journaling to ease your anxiety

Leah and Chloe recapped their days and emotions with ease. But for some, journaling may seem daunting. A lot of teens tell me they don’t journal because they don’t know how to do it well. That’s understandable. The empty page can be intimidating, and journaling may feel like homework—which offers no relief. So let’s rethink journaling. Not knowing what to say and not knowing how to start are common obstacles, but you can avoid overthinking the process by using these techniques:

Free flow for five minutes

Set a timer for five minutes, and let your pen flow. Don’t stop to correct or think, just let your hand move on the page and see what comes out. It can feel strange to write without aim, but unloading your mind in a journal makes space for peace.

Make lists

Whether you list things that make you happy, things that stress you out, the best parts of your friendships, songs that make you dance—you don’t have to write paragraphs or essays. Simply let your lists do the work of emptying your mind and helping you refocus.

Stay positive

When I meet with girls like you, we always end our time together with these questions: What’s one thing I can be grateful for right now? What’s one thing I feel hopeful about—what good might be on the horizon?

Use prompts

There are loads of journal prompt ideas online. Search for “journal prompts for anxiety” or “positive journal prompts for teens.” Working with these questions can help get your journaling off to a strong start.

Try guided journals

From gratitude to anxiety, there are a multitude of “fill in the blank” journals with options for lists and prompts. You may want to start with the options we’ve provided in our download.

Create a color journal

Use art supplies, paints, pens or markers to choose a color that represents the dominant feeling from your day. Jot a short note about why you felt the way you felt and then call it done.

Draw your day

Doodle how you feel on paper—sometimes you don’t need words to journal. You simply need to illustrate your feelings.

Let Scripture guide you

Dig into your Bible and find verses that speak to anxiety, fear and stress. You may want to start with the Psalms. Choose a verse, and write it at the top of your page. Now write about the ways in which you can relate to the feelings or fears expressed by the psalmist.

8 Ways to Help Ease Anxiety in Addition to Journaling

If you’re worried about a test, you study. If you’re concerned you might not get your driving permit, you practice. It’s never good to dwell on your worries because anxiety can grow to such a degree that it interrupts your life. Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” So here are some tips to help you release or ease your anxiety outside of journaling:


Sit in a rocking chair or find a hammock or swing. Steady, repetitive motion is calming, helping us get out of our heads as we reconnect with our physical bodies. The movement helps to release endorphins and the tension stored in the body.


Anxiety builds up in the body, but exercise is an anxiety fighter that releases hormones to promote well-being. To work out your anxiety, try stretching, hitting the trail, going for a bike ride, walking with a friend or exercising at the gym. If you’re not feeling up to a full-on sweat session, play your favorite tunes and dance. Just 10 minutes of dancing has a positive impact on stress relief.


Grab a blanket and head outside because sunshine and nature are medicine to both the body and the mind. Did you know that sunshine is our greatest source of vitamin D? Or that low vitamin D levels contribute to depression and anxiety? So lather up with sunscreen, and give yourself time in the sun.


Your five senses can help you reconnect to the present moment. Light a candle, grab your favorite scented lotion and cuddle up with a weighted blanket while listening to a calming playlist. Now breathe deep and reset. Use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to tame anxiety by focusing on five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you hear, two things you smell and one thing you can taste.


There’s just something about coloring. Whether it’s the mindlessness of filling in the white space or the repetition of coloring back and forth, stress often subsides after some time coloring. The Mayo Clinic suggests that coloring before bedtime might even help you sleep better.


Deep breathing, square breathing, box breathing—there are many ways to describe the slow and steady way of breathing recommended by therapists. Here’s how you can breathe to bring calm to your chaos: Exhale, emptying your lungs of the air in your body. As you slowly count to four, inhale. Hold that breath as you count to four, and then slowly exhale while you count to four again. Once you’ve exhaled, count to four before taking a slow, deep breath in for another four counts. Repeat until you feel steadier.


It’s hard to sleep when your mind is busy, but a lack of sleep really revs up symptoms of anxiety. Did you know that as we sleep, our bodies restore? Because of how much and how fast your brain is developing and changing during the teen years, you actually need more sleep now than at any other point in your life. So don’t ignore the connection between sleep and anxiety.


Talk with a friend, play fetch with your dog, pet your cat, call your aunt—interacting with another living thing anchors us to the present moment. When we’re in conversation with another person or playing tug-of-war with a goldendoodle, we’re less likely to suffer from a wandering mind.


Ask for help

If you or someone you know is dealing with the heaviness of anxiety and nothing seems to work, Focus on the Family is here to help. We invite you to reach out for a response from one of our licensed or pastoral care counselors. Call 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mountain time or go to Telling us you’re a Brio reader will help us connect you with the best person to assist you.

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