the 5-minute journaling technique i use to banish anxiety

Keeping a daily journal is one of the most rewarding things you can possibly do. I have used one since I was 6 and would lose my mind without the sense of calm it injects into my days. 

But it can be intimidating to read the journals of successful people (like Samuel Pepys, Hemmingway, and Benjamin Franklin) and about complex methods for keeping a record of your life.  Like all habits, the simpler you make it, the better. I prefer to have a barrage of quick and easy journaling techniques for specific situations. The criteria for each of them are as follows:

  • Must take five minutes or less to do (or longer if I wish.)
  • Must require nothing more than paper and pen.
  • Must be something I can do anywhere, anytime. 
  • Must have tangible, immediate benefits.

So, here is one which I use often to handle anxiety and stress. If starting a journal seems daunting, give this a go. No fancy equipment or writing skills required - a napkin and pencil will do. However, I always use a Moleskine Cahier and my Lamy fountain pen. 

Here's a rare picture of me smiling with my journal. Moments later, my coffee arrived and it was terrible so this did not last.

First, divide the page in two. On one side, write down everything which is on your mind as a sort of idea capture. Get it all down as quickly as possible.  I like to state it in the plainest terms possible as if explaining it to someone with no understanding of my situation. Each bullet point goes something like 'I feel X because of Y and Z' or 'A is wrong and that is making me feel B and C.'  It does not need to be any more complicated than that. If you feel like ranting or going into a lot of details, turn that into a separate journal entry. This page is all about creating an inventory of your current problems, no matter how big or small each one is. This stage is to let you articulate your exact situation. It's  common to be anxious without any real idea of what is causing it, which is why I find this stage so cathartic. 

On the other side of the page, write an equally simple list of potential solutions for each problem. Again, keep each point short and broad. I find that some of the issues become meaningless as soon as they are on paper. A few lines of self-reassurance is enough to solve them. Sometimes all I have to write is 'this is bullshit. I am doing fine. Forget this point and move on.' In fact, you would not believe how often that is the real answer.  For others, I write down an idea for a more thorough resolution. 

This next part is optional, although usually necessary. Once the first page is full, take another to write a detailed, step by step plan for each of the biggest problems. This part is what makes this technique practical, not just satisfying. Writing down problems does not eradicate them. There are always ways to solve (or at least reduce or handle) them. 

Here's an example of a recent page discussing some big issues. This will give you some idea of what a mess my brain is on a regular basis. In this case, I spent about 15 minutes writing as I was unusually worked up and found it hard to articulate anything.

Here's another page discussing some other issues. This took about 5-minutes to get down as the issues were a bit more low level and petty.

Doing this never fails to calm me down in particular if combined with a cup of tea and 10 minutes meditation. I picture it as a means of cleaning the crap out of my head to let me focus and figure things out.