Hi! Hopefully you’ve had a chance to check out my history with anxiety here. As promised, this is the first post in a series about managing anxiety. In it, I’ll discuss how I used a bullet journal and daily journal to alleviate anxiety and improve my mental health.
Journaling has been one of the most effective tools I’ve used, because it allows me to download the chaos from my anxious, overwhelmed brain. Over the last 6 months, I’ve been using two different types of journals. The first is a bullet journal (aka bujo) and the second is a traditional daily journal. These two tools have had an immense, positive impact on my life. They allow me release the incessant flow of thoughts from my mind that inevitably take over when anxiety strikes. There’s something about physically writing down a nagging thought that seems to acknowledge it, allowing my brain to “move on.”
I originally discovered bullet journaling on Pinterest. It’s a way to turn a plain notebook into a pretty amazing life tool. Through bullet journaling, I’ve been able to take back control of my life and stop living in reactionary mode. So what exactly is a bullet journal? Well it’s like a planner, to-do list, and goal setting tool all rolled into one. Here is a link to the original bullet journal system. This was also a great post for getting started. The basics discussed in these two posts are perfect for anyone interested in starting a bullet journal. While there are lots of beautiful, creative bujos out there, the system, at its core, is very simplistic and useful for anyone – especially those of us who suffer from anxiety.
Bullet journaling did three things to help me manage my anxiety:
- Cleared my mind and allowed me to get organized
- Got me thinking about the future (and actually get excited for it!)
- Exposed me to the bullet journaling community where I found all sorts of personal growth and development inspiration
1. Cleared my mind and allowed me to get organized
In July 2016, before I started bullet journaling, I felt my anxiety building and an awful tormented paralysis setting in. I felt so overwhelmed by life. There was a constant swirling in my mind of things I needed to do…to the point where I’d wake up in the middle of the night panicked about the silliest things…like…oh crap I forgot to text that person yesterday, or get a gift for that birthday party. My mind was full of so many thoughts, I couldn’t keep the simplest of tasks straight.
By starting a bujo, I was able get everything out of my head, onto paper and in one place. I finally felt at ease and began to clear my mind. One of my first bullet journal entries was a brain dump of my mental to-do list. Once I had that list written out, I was able to look at things more objectively and make a plan each day to get things done. I took my giant to-do list, prioritized it and started plugging away at things one by one. By working through one task at a time, I gained momentum which, in turn, put my mind at ease and thankfully my anxiety too.
I love that my bujo leaves me feeling more organized and focused, allowing me to move through daily life with purpose. If I have a plan, I try my best to stick to it. With no plan, I fall into a Gilmore Girl marathon and accomplish nothing (which is also ok from time to time!). I especially love that if I have a fleeting thought of “oh I’d like to do that one day….” I just write it in my bullet journal and plan for it to actually happen!
2. Got me thinking about the future (and actually get excited for it!)
Once I got that giant to do list out of my head, I was able to look at the future log and monthly overview (key components of a bujo) and think about planning for the future. In the past, anxiety would drag me down and I found myself just trying to survive the day. As a result, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about, or more importantly, planning for the future.
Thanks to my bujo, I started to look ahead to the future and began to put some small goals in my monthly overviews – i.e do one thing to decorate the house, setup a blog, save $X for a trip. My bujo became a roadmap for days to come.
I found myself in a place where I was asking “What do I really want? What is going to make me happy?” And the answer wasn’t just empty hopes and dreams. Instead, I could think of something, break it down into small tasks/goals and slowly work toward it. It was incredibly satisfying to see progress (albeit slow) towards my goals, and best of all, it helped to break me out of my anxious cycle. By taking action and accomplishing things, I was able to find more contentment and satisfaction. It seems that a lot of my anxiety stemmed from should dos, and self-doubt. By taking steps toward the things that make me happy, I was able to put some of that anxiety to rest, finding peace in the present and excitement for the future.
My current monthly spread:
And my current daily sheet:
3. Exposed me to the bullet journaling community
Everywhere you turn in the bujo community, there is new personal development inspiration. Here are a few of the spreads I’ve found to be most helpful.
- Bucket lists: not just lifelong bucket lists (I made one of those too) but seasonal bucket lists. Every season I make a list of activities I’d like to do. I think inviting more fun back into our lives is one of the keys to keeping anxiety at bay. It helps us to relax and keep things in perspective.
- A level 10 life exercise (inspired by Hal Elrod’s book Miracle Morning) where you look at key areas of your life and rate your satisfaction from 1-10. From there, you make goals within each category to move yourself closer to a 10. I’ve used this spread to set my goals for 2017. While I’ve made goals in all 10 categories, I’m really focusing my efforts this year on the three lowest scoring categories which also happen to be key areas that contribute to my anxiety.
- Daily Gratitude List – Each evening I write down one thing I’m grateful for. This helps me to stay grounded and focus on all the good things in my life.
- Anxiety Triggers – I have a spread where I record events that trigger my anxiety so I can address them at future EMDR sessions. More info on those here. Piggybacking on this, I developed a list called “When Anxiety Creeps In”. It’s a list of actions I can take that have effectively reduced my anxiety in the past. (I’ll discuss this more in a future post).
These are a few spreads I’ve personally gained value from. I know many bujo-ers track moods, medications/side effects, self-care ideas and lots more.
Bullet Journaling Supplies
You can use any old journal you have lying around to start bullet journaling. In case you’re interested, here are a few of the supplies that I use.
I started out in a traditional bound journal but was given this beautiful Filofax for Christmas and have since moved my bullet journal in here. I like that I can have planning, goal setting and collections in their own sections. And I don’t have to rewrite the goals and collections each time I switch bound journals.
One drawback to the Filofax is that it’s quite bulky and some people don’t like working around the rings. If you’re interested in a bound journal, here are two excellent options to try out.
And last but not least you need great pens! Here are the ones I use.
When I started my bujo, I used it for planning and daily journaling. I quickly realized that journaling was taking up a lot of space – so I moved it to a separate journal. Journaling is a great tool for managing mental illness because the physical act of writing allows you to release thoughts from your head, evaluate their validity and look at them more objectively. I currently write 3 pages a day (in the morning) and it’s the perfect way to unload all of those nagging thoughts and clear my mind for the day to come.
When I feel really anxious, my head seems to be in this cloudy, stormy state. As a result, I’m not able to think clearly or focus. By downloading all of my thoughts into these two journals, I’ve been able to clear away some fog from my brain. At first, my journal was full of just raw emotions, anxiety, sadness, etc. But as I started to write more and more, I began to see life a bit more clearly. More of the clouds lifted and I was able to see some of the core issues that had been festering and causing my anxiety at the root. It’s been an amazing process.
So there it is – my first step to gaining control of my anxiety. I hope you’ve found it useful and are inspired to check out bullet journaling if you haven’t already! It’s an amazing tool that’s given me so much mental freedom. While writing this post, I realized I could dive into the bujo topic more. As a result, I may come back to bullet journaling to discuss a few topics individually with more depth. If you have any questions or would like more info please let me know!
The information provided in this blog is for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for the professional medical advice or treatment that can be provided by your physician, therapist or any other health care provider. I am not a mental health practitioner. I am simply a mental health sufferer who wants to share tools that have helped me along the road to recovery.