In June 2019, an executive editor for Sterling Publishing called to ask if I’d take on a book project of 366 themed 70-word prompts, one a day for a year, with the title of Journal Therapy for Calming Anxiety. One year later, in June 2020, when America and the world were spiking new death tolls in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the book was released.
Anxiety is a pandemic within a pandemic. There’s no end to its sources—COVID, food insecurity, unemployment, political unrest, racial injustice, climate disasters—even before our individual private lives are considered. In this (hopefully!) once-in-a-lifetime collective crisis, anxiety is far down the list of priorities to treat, if treatment could even be found. Telemental health counselors have wait lists, substance abuse counselors are working double shifts, support hotlines are giving off busy signals.
But writing is a tool that can help us manage anxiety through creating mindfulness practices, challenging the scary stories we tell ourselves, signaling us for early intervention, and redirecting neural circuitry toward healing, growth and change.
As early as age six, I remember having a low-grade fearfulness of the future that could not be abated with reason or logic. It continued through puberty and adolescence as a deep body shame and fear of social consequences, then into young adulthood as a sense of never quite measuring up.
This insecurity followed me into my early adulthood and contributed to two failed marriages. In my 30s “the day finally came,” as Anais Nin wrote, “when the risk to stay tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to blossom.” I found my life’s passion and purpose – journal writing for personal growth, creative expression and life management. Through that lens, I could see my lifelong ennui for what it was: low-grade anxiety—made suddenly much more manageable as I connected with that which filled me with curiosity and aliveness.
That’s the lens through which I structured this year-long book of prompts. I read hundreds of fascinating studies and extracted nuggets to develop writes. I scribbled reams of post-it notes about the way journal writing works to increase awareness, decrease escalation and shift into resources. I surveyed nearly 200 people who self-identified as anxious and asked them for their best strategies, tips and techniques for self-calm.
I think with every book I write, I learn something new about myself. With Journal Therapy for Calming Anxiety I learned that for decades I’ve been minimizing my own anxiety. I downplayed its relevance and thus was not tuned into its messages.
Turning anxiety into an ally has been one of the most profound experiences of this pandemic for me. And it’s one that I’m now delighted to share with my friends and colleagues at NAMW!
We’ll talk about:
- Why writing helps calm anxiety
- Respecting, listening to and creating relationship with anxiety
- How simple structures can bring huge shifts
- The power of setting intentions
- How to discover your own customized mindfulness strategies
Kathleen Adams LPC, PTR is a licensed psychotherapist and registered poetry/journal therapist. She is the founder/director of the Center for Journal Therapy, Inc., its online professional training program, the Therapeutic Writing Institute, and its online personal growth school, Journalversity. Kay is the author or editor of 13 books, including the best-selling Journal to the Self and the textbook Expressive Writing: Foundations of Practice. In 2021 she will resume seeing private clients and offering professional consultations in journal therapy, using the Zoom platform. Kay and her fiancé, Ken, live quietly and play chess fiercely in the western suburbs of Denver, Colorado.