How to keep a thought journal to help with anxiety

Thought journal

If you suffer from IBS or food intolerances, you’ll probably be pretty familiar with keeping a food diary. Noting down everything you eat and drink each day, and any symptoms along the way. It’s one of the first things that we’re told to do in order to identify our triggers, and often the most effective (in fact, contrary to popular belief it’s the only proven way of identifying intolerances – intolerance tests are not proven to be accurate guys!).

For me, keeping a food diary not only helped me connect the dots and figure out some of the lurking food culprits that I didn’t even consider (such as grapes: low FODMAP yet they absolutely hate my guts, literally – what is that about!?), but it also made me more conscious of what I was putting into my body; making me think about every single morsel rather than the “oh one bite will be fine” mantra.

The problem was, for me, my diet is only half of the problem. The rest is in my head. And I don’t mean in my head as in IBS is one big psychological disorder that my mind has created, like a lot of really helpful doctors often allude to, but instead, how I feel in my mind is a big contributor to my physical symptoms. Suffering from anxiety can have a massive impact on IBS, and suffering with IBS can have a massive impact on anxiety – creating one great big lovely viscous cycle. So although managing my diet has worked an absolute treat, last year I decided that I also needed to figure out how to manage my mental wellness in order to feel by absolute best.

If any of you follow me on Instagram or YouTube, you may be aware that at the end of last year after struggling with anxiety for a while I managed to pluck up all of the courage I had and went to visit Emma at Kent Therapy Clinic. Emma specialises in psychotherapy and hypnotherapy and I am planning to dedicate an entire post or even vlog on my hypnosis experience, but for now I wanted to share a really great tip that Emma taught me.

Thought diary

As well as keeping my food diary, Emma told me to keep a thought diary to help with my anxiety. As you may have read in my ‘Top tips for a happy mind (and happy tum!)’ post Emma told me write to buy a little diary and down everything I felt as I felt it throughout the day –  it only had to be a few words such as “happy”, “unsettled”, “anxious” etc. I then had to spend at least 10 minutes at the end of the day looking through what I had written and breaking it down into why I think I felt that way.

After a few days I worked out my own little formula of breaking it down which worked well for me.

So, starting with the first feeling, for example “panicky” I would think about…

  1. the cause: the situation I was in at the time, or anything that had happened leading up to it. Perhaps I was going to a work event and feeling worried, anxious and embarrassed about telling people I couldn’t eat the food, which caused me to go into panic mode. The defying moment may not be instantly clear, and it may be a combination of a few smaller moment that built up so write down anything that made you feel less than neutral to try and pinpoint the reason. Identifying the trigger is often the most helpful part as the more you do it, the more you will start to identify and “correct” before the situation spirals.
  2. why did I feel like this?: my gut feeling was panic, but what was I actually feeling panicky about? Was there an even deeper feeling that was causing me to feel panicky, such as embarrassed or ashamed, or even jealous that I couldn’t just be “normal”? What would have been the worst case scenario, and should I have really been feeling that worried? If I did tell people would they really judge me and think less of me, or would they just think intolerances or normal – or perhaps even be interested?
  3. what do I want to have felt instead?: it’s most likely that my gut feeling didn’t have a positive reaction on the rest of my day, so thinking back, how do I wish I had felt? In this case it may have been that I wished I was excited about the event, or also even a little bit nervous – which is totally natural and OK, but not to the point of it ruining my evening and making me leave early. It’s sometimes helpful to think about the advice you would give to somebody else in that situation, as often we’re very good at giving it but not taking it! Recognising how we want to feel can help train our brain to start feeling it.
  4. Let it go: now you have identified the triggers and understood what you need to change, let it go. Don’t keep playing it over and over in your head, see it as a learning exercise and move on. You can’t change the past but you can control the future (cheesy I know, but true right?).

Suffering with anxiety can often be a big blur in the moment, but spending the time at the end of the day to reflect can help make it easier to really understand your thought pattern.

I am a massive “why girl” (if you’re not aware of Simon Sinek’s golden circle theory I would definitely recommend a watch/read)and would usually always start with the why, however in this case I flip it around and start with the what, the how and then lastly the why. This is because the part of the brain responsible for emotions (limbic brain) has no capacity for language so in order to understand those emotions we have to decode it. The way that I do that is by starting rom the outside of the golden circle (marketing suicide I know!) and work my way in. By breaking it down into what happened and how I was feeling it makes it possible to understand why I was feeling that way.

I really hope this may help others who are struggling to understand the cause of their emotions; particularly anxiety or depression. I would also massively recommend getting yourself a diary from The Food Diary Co. as they even include a section especially for recording your mood.

If you have any thoughts or questions on the above, or any other tips that help you deal with your own anxiety I would love to hear!

Lottie x


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