Note-taking techniques to reduce anxiety

Life is overwhelming. Thoughts and ideas relentlessly swirl in and out of our minds, making it hard to focus and find peace. It becomes difficult to make sense of it all. This mental state is deeply uncomfortable, and unproductive as well.

Note-taking techniques to reduce anxiety
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Our brains thrive on creating mental associations, but are quite poor at storing them. When these associations are lost before we can capture them, we become stressed and anxious. We feel that we are missing things so our brains kick into overdrive, generating more things in our head that we should be doing. As this accelerates, we start to feel as if we’re drowning. Panic can even set in.
If this sounds familiar, take a deep breath. The right note-taking system can help, and it’s not all that difficult.

Capturing our thoughts reduces anxiety

Our brains are like a camera without a memory card. It can take a stunning image, and even show it to you for a moment. But after that brief moment, it's gone forever, no matter how brilliant the image. Your notes act as that missing memory card.
Capturing and saving thoughts needs to be effortless. You should be able to capture them whether you're driving in a car, taking a shower, or walking down a path (after all, this is typically when inspiration strikes).
Voice notes are an excellent way to achieve this. We can speak our thoughts significantly faster than we can write or type them. Transcription technology like Whisper AI has opened up a new world of taking voice notes. We’re no longer stuck with an awkward audio file – AI language models can organize the text for us.
Build frictionless writing systems as well. Create special notes to carelessly capture thoughts and ideas in. Pin these notes so you can find them easily. Make sure whatever note-taking solution you’re using is fast and reliable.

Techniques for When You're Feeling Anxious

Do regular Mind Dumps

First, create a note that holds a simple checklist. Whenever you think of something you need to do, add it to this Mind Dump list. Write out every possible task or thing you might have to do. Cover all areas of your life: work, side projects, personal life, errands, everything. With each item you write down, your mind will start to feel decluttered. Mental tension will quickly ease.
Once you can't think of anything else to add, prioritize your list by arranging tasks from most to least important. Mark the non-negotiable items with a star, and eliminate anything that doesn't really need to be done. Use your Mind Dump as a to-do list for the day, or add it to an existing one.
If it's easier, record and transcribe your Mind Dump through a voice note. Using Reflect’s Whisper AI integration, you can ramble as much as you'd like, and it will transcribe it with near human level accuracy. Then have the AI palette editor convert that voice note into an action list.
However you decide to create your list, do this process at least twice a day: once in the morning, and once in the evening. Doing a Mind Dump in the morning starts your day off with a sense of calm control. In the evening, a Mind Dump will actually help you sleep better. Don’t lay in bed, pondering what needs to be done the next day. When you think of to-do list items this way, it seems easy to remember them the next morning. Deep down we know this is not the case. So it causes restlessness. After an evening Mind Dump, you can peacefully fall asleep, knowing you've thought of everything and gotten it out of your mind already.
Note: if you get anxious on Sunday evenings, the so-called "Sunday Scaries", this works particularly well. You won't feel anxious about the week ahead, because you have a pretty good idea of what it will look like. More importantly, you already know exactly what needs to get done.
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Daily Journaling as a Therapeutic Tool

Begin your day with a journaling routine that benefits you. Make it simple, so you keep doing it each day.
What exactly your morning journal looks like will depend entirely on you and what you want to get out of it.
Here are some recommendations:
Gratitude Journaling – List 5 things you are genuinely grateful for. It could be a person, something that happened, or even just something around you that's pleasant, like a sunny day after a rain spell.
Set a top priority for the day – Imagine you can only accomplish one single thing in the day. What should that one thing be? Write it down so you know where to focus your time and energy.
Set an affirmation for the day – What kind of person do you want to be today? A confident person? A creative person? A kind one? Write down your focus for the day and remind yourself of it occasionally.
Write down how you are feeling – Don't worry about tracking metrics. Record how you feel, both mentally and physically. Feeling tired? Write it down. Wake up with back pain? Describe it in detail.
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The Reframing Exercise

When you've noticed something bothering you, stop and follow these steps:
  1. Write down the anxious thought (e.g., "I'm nervous about my presentation later today").
  1. Reframe the thought in a positive way (e.g., "I'm the perfect person to be giving this presentation.").
  1. Describe how the best version of yourself would handle the situation. It's okay to be a bit arrogant here. (e.g., "Be calm and focus on the information I'm providing. I'm the expert, after all.").
Use this exercise as needed throughout the day to address anxiety. You can do it for as many anxious thoughts as you have. Although, you'll likely find you're feeling much calmer after doing it just once.

Conduct Regular Reflections

Sometimes it's hard to understand our thoughts until we externalize them. Anytime you're feeling something negative – stress, worry, sadness, fear, anxiety, worry – write it down.
Write down exactly what you're feeling. Describe your emotions, even if they seem irrational and difficult to explain. Move onto how they're making you feel physically. Do you have butterflies in your stomach? A fast heart rate? What does that feel like exactly, and where?
Simply being conscious of how we feel, both physically and mentally, can do a lot to stop our negative thinking cycles. It forces us out of an unwanted habit loop.
By the way, this is another good one to do with audio notes.
Building a habit of intentional journaling is actually not so hard. It feels good, and our brains are trained to keep doing things that feel good. At first, you'll need to set reminders, but soon it will become a positive habit you look forward to.
You can effectively cure the symptoms and underlying sources of stress and anxiety as soon as they arise. These practices are tools to call on whenever you feel overwhelmed, and they’re even preventative.
 

Written by

Sam Claassen
Sam Claassen

Head of Growth at Reflect