If you're feeling overwhelmed, putting your thoughts down on paper can help relieve some stress.

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With the Coronavirus pandemic changing the structure of our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. With reports of depression and anxiety cases rising, I’ve been on the lookout for simple ways to lower my stress levels while I practice social distancing. I’ve learned that activities like coloring can help calm you down, and knitting and crocheting have been shown to help relieve stress as well. But there’s one way to help reduce your stress levels that anyone can do from home, and you don’t need anything fancy to get started: Journaling. 

Google searches of “journals for anxiety” have increased more than 8,200% over the last two months, so this practice is top-of-mind for a lot of people. We chatted with Kathryn Ely, a licensed and nationally-certified counselor and founder of Empower Counseling, LLC, about the benefits of journaling and how it can lower stress levels. She told us that writing down things you’re thankful for (no matter how small!) is one of the easiest ways to experience the benefits. 

woman sitting drinking tea and journaling
Credit: Mundus Images/Getty Images

“Journaling can and should alleviate stress during social distancing,” she says. “Over one hundred studies have shown that journaling connected to your values (what is most important to you in your life) has significant benefits.

Ely explains that there is actually some science behind why this works, too. She says this form of journaling is one of the most studied and most effective forms of psychological intervention and can help you feel more in control of a scary or overwhelming situation. 

“The feeling of being in control alleviates stress and anxiety. Right now, there is so much that is going on around us that is out of our control,” she explains. “Focusing on what you can control versus what you can not makes all of the difference in your level of stress. Connecting with what you value, through journaling, especially first thing in the morning as a part of a mindfulness routine, will start your day with a sense of control.”

Ely recommends journaling at least twice a day. Pick up your journal in the morning before you reach for your phone, check the news, or begin working, and answer these prompts:

  • Who do I want to be today?
  • How do I want to show up for the important people in my life?
  • What am I grateful for? 
  • What do I want to accomplish today?
  • What actions will it take for me to accomplish this?
  • Who can I help today?
  • What actions can I take to help them?

“These prompts will put what you value right in front of you,” Ely explains. “After you are clear on what you value, decide three actions you can take to carry out those values.” 

At the end of the day, spend a few more minutes journaling before you go to sleep as a way to reflect on the day. Ely recommends asking yourself what went well, what did not, and what you want to do differently tomorrow. “Journaling about these reflections will help you feel even more in control, like you are driving the bus, instead of being a passenger on a bus that is out of control,” she says. 

To help you get started, here are six of our favorite prompted journals. Of course, these measures aren’t a replacement for speaking with a medical professional if you are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety that go beyond the day-to-day stress of these uncertain times. 

Related Items

journal with printed prompts
Credit: Courtesy of Write to Me

Family Gratitude Journal

Get the whole family involved! This linen bound gratitude journal holds 365 pages, each printed with three prompts: ‘Today I am grateful for,’ ‘People I am thankful for,’ and ‘Best part of my day was.’ Pass the book around each day and have each person in your family write down what they’re thankful for. If your kids aren’t writing yet, go around the table after dinner and have each person say it out loud as you write it for them. When the pandemic has passed, you’ll also have this written record to look back on.

Buy It: Gratitude Journal, ($45, Write to Me)

journal with written prompts inside
Credit: Courtesy of Urban Outfitter

Five Minute Journal

If you’re hesitant to start journaling because you don’t need another thing to add to your to-do list, this is the journal for you. It’s designed to help you lower stress levels in just five minutes by answering questions that align with Ely’s end-of-day suggestions, like “What made today great?” and “How could I have made today even better?”

Buy It: Intelligent Change Journal, ($25, Urban Outfitters)

book titled 52 lists
Credit: Courtesy of Anthropologie

Lists for Calm

For the super-stressed, consider getting a journal with prompts specifically designed to calm an anxious mind. This one contains 52 prompts that ask you to list calming things (like your favorite ways to relax or songs that bring you comfort). Each list takes up several pages, so you have plenty of room to get all your thoughts down. Plus, each section is also sprinkled with tips and advice boxes to help you achieve total zen.

Buy It: 52 Lists, ($17, Anthropologie)

linen bound books
Credit: Courtesy of Unbound

Blank Prompt Journal

If thinking of an answer to specific prompts causes you more stress, opt for a journal that’s a little more low-key. This gorgeous bound journal was designed to help you track your gratitude without feeling overwhelmed. The journal holds more than 360 pages with just five lines per day so you can quickly jot down five things you’re thankful for, or use the spaces to answer your own prompts (like the ones Ely suggested). The journal has enough space for you to write five lines per day for five years, which means you’ll be able to look back on how your responses have changed over time. 

Buy It: Gratitude Journal, ($45, Unbound)

pink journal with calm the chaos written on the front
Credit: Courtesy of Target

Calm the Chaos

This bright journal contains 144 pages of simple prompts structured around goal setting, reflection, and intention. The prompts can help you discover things you’re thankful for, as well as help you build habits that can bring happiness. Plus, you can get free 2-day shipping with orders over $35, so you can get started right away. 

Buy It: Gratitude Journal, ($15, Target)

white journal with blue text on the cover
Credit: Courtesy of Therapy Notebooks

The Anti-Anxiety Notebook

If you're on the fence about speaking to a therapist or have been experiencing low levels of anxiety lately, the Anti-Anxiety Notebook is a good place to start. Designed by psychologists, the notebook contains resources and journal pages to help you understand and combat anxious feelings before they take over your mind. It contains five "Check-In's" tools commonly used in therapy as well as structured exercises and more than 100 journal entry pages to help you work through your anxiety.

Buy It: The Anti-Anxiety Notebook, ($34, Therapy Notebooks)

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