Why Thought Records May Be Useful

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional
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We all keep records. Yet I've watched eyes glaze over at the suggestion of keeping a thought diary as a record and that's where I probe a little further. “Do you have a CD, or DVD, or photograph collection?” Most people do. “Do have access to bank statements, utility bills or other financial records?” Again, most people do.

The questions are simply designed to point out that record keeping is a feature of our lives. Our account details can often be found online and we find it useful to check how money is moving, or to change passwords, update personal details and so on. Some people are natural archivists. They organize their CD, or book, or photograph collection in various ways which allow them to cross reference. It can be interesting and useful to look back on these records to see how things have changed.

Why thought records?

In practice, the point of maintaining thought records is no different from some of the reasons previously mentioned. A thought record can be a simple device in which the situation that provoked anxiety is linked to your associated feelings and thoughts.

Thought records can provide insights and structure to issues previously considered out of your control. This is an important component of anxiety awareness because without this, progress may be slow and limited.** Thought identificatiory this as an exercise. Recall a situation when you felt very anxious.**

  • What went through your mind when you started to feel anxious?
  • What was the worst thing that might have happened?
  • Why did that matter to you?

If you're not used to putting words to your feelings these may seem tough questions to answer, but given a little time and patience you’ll probably be able to do so.

Setting up a thought recordA good way to pinpoint your thoughts is to get some sheets of paper and divide each sheet into three columns. The heading for the first column is** SITUATION**. Beneath this you make brief notes about the situation that triggered your anxiety, “Invitation to a party,” for example. The heading for your second column is** FEELINGS**. Here you make notes about the sensations that resulted from the party invitation. “I was panicky, shaky.” In the third column, headed** THOUGHTS**, you make related notes. “I’m afraid I'll be embarrassed, I need to get out of this.”

Useful tips

Some people complain that record keeping like this needlessly prolongs their feelings of anxiety. But avoidance is actually part of the problem. Stick with it, and over time the situation will improve and you'll begin to see the benefits. Also:

  • It's helpful to organize your record by starting with specific situations; the more recent the better as your memory is less likely to be distorted.

  • Keep in mind there is always a reason for why you feel anxious, embarrassed or sad. The fact that anxiety seems to come out of the blue is simply because the reason(s) remain elusive.

  • Your thoughts are the engine that drives your discomfort. Identifying these thoughts is an important factor on the road to recovery. Try not to dwell on the issues as you record them.

  • Time, patience and diligence are important. A record is only as useful as we make it. Sometimes it can take days or weeks before patterns start to emerge. Even if they seem to occur immediately, stick with it to ensure you're getting the full picture.

If your record isn't providing the insights you were hoping for it may be time to seek professional guidance. Records may help to provide insight but they may only be part of the answer to resolving your anxiety issue.** See More Helpful Articles**

Benefits and Limitations of CBT for Treating Anxiety

8 Common Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety and Vision Problems

Hypervigilance in Anxiety


Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.