Reducing Divorce Anxiety through Journaling

By: Kat Forsythe MSW
May 05, 2017

Find Relief from Divorce Anxiety with Journaling

Nothing rouses the anxiety monster like divorce. You’ll do anything to run away from it. Drugs? Exercise? Meditation? Here’s my secret weapon to combat divorce anxiety: journaling.

Journaling? No kidding. It’s a surefire way to kill the demons of doubt. It’s what kept me sane last week during a cross country move where I had left old friends, old loves, old familiar places, picked up sticks in California and started all over again in the Midwest. I was terrified. Was I too old to make this move? Can I make new friends? What if my business doesn’t translate to the new environment? Journaling for the last three years helped remember see why I was leaving. It showed me that I was a lot stronger than I even realized. It reassured me that the hardest part was starting – and that the rest would fall into place. It swept away much of my anxiety. I relaxed a little more.

Here’s why journaling is so critical to dashing the anxiety demons during divorce recovery.

Your brain is struggling to keep up with your new emerging identity. As it searches for answers, you experience emotional ups and downs that feel foreign and frightening. One thing is for sure: The rollercoaster of emotions in divorce happens so fast that you’re left with little time to remember if you’ve felt this way in the past. Each day seems to be a new experience. New thoughts, new memories, new coping skills, new situations. You find yourself crying out, “I don’t know how to deal with this. I’ve never felt like this before."

Anxiety is high. You try yoga, meditation, more exercise, and endless “processing” conversations with friends. None of them seem to help. Off to the doc you go. Valium, Ativan, Xanax, or Klonopin to the rescue! You’d rather not take these drugs, but they seem to be the only antidote that works for your spiking anxiety.

Prescription Drugs Don't Have to Be the Answer to Your Divorce Anxiety  

Before you wash down those pills, consider a better alternative: daily journal entries. As I’ve worked with clients going through divorce over the years, I’ve seen that as little as 10 minutes every day (preferably first thing in the morning), keeps life balance and decreases anxiety - without the litany of anti-anxiety drugs.

Don’t be intimidated by the term “journaling.”It simply means dumping your thoughts out of your brain and unto the written page. (By the way, writing by hand seems to be slightly more effective than typing on a computer, but use whichever method works best for you.)

You don’t have to write much. With only one or two short paragraphs a day, you’ll be recording your fears as well as solutions for handling crises. You’ll be documenting patterns and coping mechanisms that worked for you (or didn’t work) over time. Then, days, months, weeks, or years later you can return to your notes and see that you’re stronger than you realized – and that you’ve faced similar situations and worked through them in the past. Your anxiety will start to drop. It’s soothing and comforting to be your own cheerleader and witness your own successful actions. You’ll find yourself saying, “I did this before. I can do it again!”

Why Does Journaling Help With Divorce Anxiety? 

Here why journaling during the divorce process is vital to your recovery. With such a great return for such little effort, there’s no excuse for waiting. Start today.

  1. Your brain believes everything you tell it. Writing reinforces it. Repetition makes it stronger. When you write out these positive actions you’ve taken: resolutions you’ve made, decisions for letting go, mental reconstruction of your spousal history – to understand how you got to this place, you get a double bang for your buck in your brain. The initial thinking and writing digs a big commitment pattern in your brain. Re-discovering and re-reading it in a former similar entry cements it. A note of caution: your brain doesn’t discern positive from negative thoughts or actions. Yes, dump the negative stuff on the paper as well, but give more shelf space to bigger, self-confidence building thoughts and processes.
  2. Your brain craves routine and rewards you for the effort by relaxing. Central command above your shoulders (your brain) is scanning the horizon for recognizable repeated daily actions in your life. (Again, red flag: it doesn’t take preference over good or bad habits, which is why destructive habits are so tough to crack.) During divorce, routine can easily turn to chaos. You can reverse that by journaling first thing in the morning or at the same time every day. After several days, your brain will be thrilled to have one event it can count on, and you’ll be looking forward to it. You’ll relax during journal time. It’s one small, predictable event that you can count on. Less anxiety and more sanity.
  3. You’ll see patterns and ideas that you want to revisit and repeat, as well as those that you can finally let go. Journaling lets you see the paths you want to travel again, and those with “Danger! Do not retrace these steps!” You can make the conscious choice to work with the actions that helped you, and avoid the trap of disastrous choices you made previously.
  4. Journal writing is like having your own internal therapist. Like working with a good therapist, you leave the session with less anxiety, but you don’t have to pay for it.Your self-confidence begins to rise as you move forward with life choices based on what’s best for you, from your own experience. You understand the ebb and flow of patterns from reading your own observations of your life.
  5. One tip when you have nothing to say: We all have days when words escape us. Experts tell us to simply write the word writing over and over again. Thoughts may come, or not, It doesn’t matter. There'll be other prolific days to make up for it. The point is that you’re reassuring your brain that this new habit will continue, no matter what.

Let’s face it. Divorce is hard, no matter how amicable or destructive yours might be. During the divorce process, it’s normal to vacillate through emotions – one day you’re high on your newfound freedom, the next day you’re low on your loneliness, and the next day you’re re-examining your life with your ex - trying to make sense of your break-up. You feel disconnected. Journaling can help reduce the divorce anxiety without drugs – or at the very least, help you take less drugs.

Learning to be your own best friend during divorce and strengthening your self-determination is critical to faster healing. Invest a few minutes a day journaling, and soon you’ll be able to read your old entries and say, “Oh, right! I remember how I did that." You’ll catapult yourself to a new place of strength.

Stop by any drug store or office supply and grab a lined notebook. Start journaling tomorrow morning. Over the next week, watch your anxiety decrease along with the valium doses. Stand ready for clearer thinking and new found self-determination.

Journaling is your new weapon for conquering divorce-induced anxiety! 


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