5 Free-Writing Journal Exercises for Stress and Anxiety Relief

by | Aug 29, 2018 | Healthy Living, Habits for Growth

5 Free-Writing Journal Exercises for Stress and Anxiety Relief

As a therapist, I work every day with clients who want to transform parts of themselves and to lead happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. While I’ve seen first-hand the power that therapy and professional counseling have to awaken people to their own inner light, I understand that therapy is not an option that many feel financially or emotionally prepared for. Many people also grow up with a stigmatized perception of therapy that discourages them from taking the step to reach out. Whatever the case may be, I want people to know that therapy, though an amazing resource, is not the only option for doing inner work.

If you don’t feel quite ready to seek professional help, there are simple steps you can take on your own to heal your mind, heart, and spirit.

One of my favorite methods for coping with stress, anxiety, and depression is free-writing.


Free-Writing is the process of using a stream-of-consciousness style to document thoughts and emotions in a personal journal or diary. Capturing our thoughts in this way allows us to identify feelings, recognize life themes and patterns, clear our minds of negative noise and clutter, and track personal progress.

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The best thing about free-writing is that it is accessible to everyone; all you need is a notebook and a pen or pencil. It’s also incredibly enlightening—you’d be surprised how much you can discover about yourself when you sit down to write. While there is no right or wrong way to go about it, I’ve included some ideas to get you started on your free-writing journey.

Here are 5 Free-Writing prompts for journaling for stress/anxiety relief:

Free-Writing Prompt #1:  Spill your guts

You may think it sounds dramatic, but it can actually be quite therapeutic to pour your feelings out onto the page. So many of us live our lives for other people—we bite our tongues, bottle up emotions, and stifle thoughts so as to be as amenable and please as many people as humanly possible, and in the process, we can lose ourselves.

Are you upset, pissed off, distraught, terrified, ecstatic, euphoric? When journaling, allow yourself to feel your feelings, and feel them at full volume. This demands acknowledging emotions or thoughts that you may be embarrassed or even afraid to address.

Think of it as the equivalent of screaming into a pillow or hitting a punching bag. When we spend so much of our day holding back for other people, it’s important to release our feelings, however ugly they might be. With the “spill your guts” exercise, you’ll find that you harbor less tension, resentment, or misguided anger because you’ve actually granted yourself the space to let it out. You may even find yourself writing down feelings you weren’t even aware you were experiencing. Remember, you’re human. It’s okay to be upset—give yourself permission to feel the full range of your emotions.

Free-Writing Prompt #2: “If…Then…” Lists

While the “Spill Your Guts” prompt is purely for emotional release, the “If…Then…” List is all about the strategic management of those emotions. Oftentimes what keeps us in a cycle of pain is not merely the event or trauma itself, but the fact that we have no system in place designed to help us cope with the pain. When we don’t have a strategy for processing and repurposing our pain, we may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs, emotional eating, violence, and self-harm.

An “If…Then…” List is a strategy or guide designed to prepare productive, healthy responses to uncomfortable, undesirable, or painful situations. “IF I feel X, THEN I will Y.”

Identify an area in your life that has been problematic. Perhaps you want to lose weight or make healthier lifestyle choices, but you struggle with emotional eating. Your “If…Then…” list might read something like this:

IF I’m bored…THEN I will distract myself with physical activity

IF I’m sad…THEN I will comfort myself with positive affirmations, not food

IF I’m craving junk food…THEN I will choose the healthiest alternative or substitute

IF I’m afraid of speaking my mind and being assertive… THEN I will remind myself that I am free to feel how I feel and communicate to my partner where I stand

By having a contingency plan in place, you give yourself a better chance at making productive decisions when confronted with triggering situations.

Free-Writing Prompt #3: Write a letter (you’ll never send)

Another helpful journaling exercise is to write a letter that you never send. Sometimes we harbor negative feelings toward others that we never express. Other times, we may desperately want to work through our issues with another person, but can’t pinpoint exactly what we want to say. Use your journal as a dumping ground of sorts to get to the root of what you truly want to say—completely unfiltered. After writing your letter, you may feel relief simply through the action of getting these long-held thoughts out of your mind. Allow yourself to discharge the energy.

Free-Writing Prompt #4: Describe Your Perfect Reality

In order to dream big, you’ve got to know what it is you want out of life. Most of us may have a vague idea of the things we desire—money, success, love—but rarely do we get clear on the details.

Every dream is an order we send out into the Universe. We must remember that we work with the Universe to manifest the reality we seek, and so it’s important to get specific about what we want.

In your journal, free-write a description of your ideal life. What does it look like? What city are you living in? Are you in an apartment, a house? Do you have pets? What are their names? Be as detail-oriented and dream as big as possible. It might seem frivolous at first, but the benefits of this exercise are two-fold. First, it allows you to gain clarity about what you really want and the things that are important to you. Second, it challenges you to be creative and design a life for yourself that’s bigger and grander than you might have ever imagined.

Free-Writing Prompt #5: Gratitude List

Finally, one of my favorite free-writing exercises is simply making a list of everything you’re grateful for.

Happiness stems from realizing and appreciating the abundance that already surrounds you.

Things may not be perfect—nor will they ever be, because perfection is an illusion—but there are so many simple blessings we take for granted every day. Take some time every day to simply note the small details that you cherish. You can be grateful for good health, strong friendships, a steady paycheck, creative inspiration; the list goes on. The beautiful thing about the gratitude exercise is that the longer you write, the more things you’ll find to add to your list.

Journaling is a way to become intimate with the corners and crevices of your own spirit, to ask questions you’re afraid or embarrassed to ask aloud, and to be open to the answers that arise when you open up and allow them to come forward. Carry your journal with you everywhere—even if you don’t have the time to make an entry every day, simply seeing your journal will trigger mindfulness and remind you to take stock of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions throughout the day. Lastly, I highly recommend dating your entries. This way, you can look back and track your progress and growth through the weeks, months, and years. Get a journal and get to know yourself!


Dr. Logan Jones is a NYC-based therapist. He works with clients to break through pain, traumas, and limiting narratives to construct new lives that are in line with the potential inside each and every one of us. Dr. Logan understands that sometimes we just need a little push in the right direction, and he lends himself and his

Dr. Logan Jones is a psychologist in New York City. He utilizes a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and insight-oriented psychodynamic therapy. His approach helps New Yorkers relieve symptoms and gain new insight.

No matter what you’re going through, whether depression, anxiety, or PTSD, there is hope. If you are looking for therapy in NYC his psychotherapy practice is located in central Manhattan near Flatiron, West Village, NoMad Chelsea, or Union Square.

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