Cognitive Behavioral Journaling

 Whether you are changing jobs, entering the job market for the first time, or looking for new employment due to layoffs, you may have noticed an increase in your stress and anxiety.  You certainly are not alone. According to a survey done by INC, 73% of job seekers report significant stress related to finding work.  With sudden and unexpected changes in employment availability due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, job hunting stress is reaching new heights. (1)

Why Journaling is Important for New Work Stress

A potent tool for dealing with new job stress is journaling for mental health. Journaling is a simple yet effective way of managing stress. Examining and communicating our inner thoughts and feelings helps more than you might realize.   Self-reflection and stress reduction may feel low on the list of priorities when you are feeling pressed for time in the job hunt; however, research has shown that high levels of anxiety and stress have a significant impact on our ability to accurately convey information, verbalize complex thoughts, and sustain concentration. (2) Therefore, taking steps to manage the anxiety and stress around a job transition is essential to presenting our best self to future employers. 

Two lumberjacks had a contest to see who could cut the most trees. One worked feverishly and ceaselessly, whacking away at tree after tree. He looked over his shoulder and noticed his competitor was frequently sitting on the stump of a tree he just felled, apparently resting.  At the end of the day, they counted the logs and the “resting” lumberjack had actually cut down several more trees than the more active one!  When asked how he won, the lumberman said, “I always take a moment after every tree to sharpen my ax.” This story is an important reminder that taking a moment to sharpen our emotional tools can make us better at the task at hand.

Anxiety and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has become an increasingly popular modality as research has shown its ability to assist anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) explains that our feelings and actions stem from our thoughts. Therefore, if we want to decrease a feeling such as anxiety, we need to change the way we think about ourselves and the situation creating the anxiety. Why journaling can be such an important practice is that it assists us in slowing down to verbalize and acknowledge our thoughts. The first step to changing anything is to recognize its existence and make conscious decisions about how we want to proceed.

Once we have taken the time to identify our thoughts, we use facts from our life to identifying if the thought is accurate thoughts vs. inaccurate. It is important to acknowledge that our thoughts our often not black and white as accurate or inaccurate. When it comes to anxiety often there is some threat that is causing the reaction in the first place. However, in many new job anxieties there are aspects of the threat that become amplified and distorted. CBT Journaling assists us in identifying and extracting those distortions.

Work Anxiety: Starting your CBT Journal

Getting started: Begin by taking out a piece of paper or open a note-taking app on your electronic device. This journal is formatted into 5 distinct steps

  1. Identifying the Event

    Write down the Event which occurred immediately before you experienced the new job stress/anxiety. For example, “I went online to a job board and began browsing open positions.”
  2. Noticing the Thought

    Identify and write the stress related Thought that occurred after the event. For example, “I have been looking for a job for weeks, I am never going to get a job.”
  3. Note the Feelings

    What we think often becomes our emotional reality.  Note what Feelings occur after you have that thought. Example: “Hopeless, Frustrated, Guilty.”
  4. Reviewing the Facts

    Here’s where we must gear down and do some serious work.  We need to engage our reasoning and do what many therapists call “taking your thoughts to court”. This means that we examine our own words and objectively look for concrete evidence both supporting and disputing our thoughts. Start by writing down Evidence in favor of the Thought. Example: “1. I have read from a reputable source that finding a job in my field is challenging right now.  2. I have applied to three jobs without any response.”

    Now note any Evidence Against the Thought. Example: “1. I cannot predict the future and therefore cannot predict what will happen with employment.  2. Last time I was looking for a job, it took me several months but ultimately ended successfully.”
  5. Finding the Reframed Thought

    You have gathered evidence for and against the thought, now it is up to you to decide how you want to change how you are thinking about this. Using the examples which we have looked at throughout this exercise, the reframed thought might look something like this: “Finding a job right now is difficult but not impossible.”

Expanding Your Wellness Tool Belt

Noticing, analyzing, and changing thoughts is not an easy task for most.  It will cost you some mental and emotional energy.   So do not worry if you are not sure you did it right. As with many things in life, the more you practice this form of journaling, the more natural it will become. CBT journaling is one tool to combat job anxiety, but certainly not the only one. The more tools you have to cope with new job anxiety, the more effective you are going to be. HabitBetter offers a course in Stress and Anxiety Management that is comprehensive in its approach. In the course you will learn the physiological basis for anxiety as well as an individualized approach to managing your stress.

The uncertainty of employment during a pandemic is just plain stressful, but there are ways to cope. It pays off in the long run to equip yourself with knowledge and self-compassion, and to sharpen your own understanding of yourself and how you are thinking. 

So, go pick up that pencil and notepad and get started!  You will be surprised how helpful this exercise of expressing oneself on paper can be.