Fearlessly Happy

Writing for mental health

To improve your mental health, for anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, you could take up writing. Writing a diary every night is beneficial for your mind. It helps you get all your fears and negativity out of your head and onto paper. It stops all of the thoughts in your head and calms your mind down. It also makes you become more aware of your own thoughts, allowing you to learn more about how your mind works and how you can fight a mental disorder.

Letting out all of your frustrations in a diary can also help with anger management. You get a chance to blow off steam on paper, rather than to a person. Getting all of your thoughts out on paper can help you sleep as well. It has been proven that too little sleep can worsen anxiety and depression. By writing your thoughts in a diary, they will be less likely to roam around in your head. Going to bed with a cleared mind will let you fall asleep easier.

To write for mental health, get yourself a notebook and leave it by your bed with a pen. Every night, write down all of your thoughts. This doesn’t have to be done in a specific order. Just write down everything that is bothering you and everything that is going on in your head. Freewrite. Don’t judge your writing or think that anyone is going to read it. Just write down everything that pops up.
You can also combine this with the triumphs exercise (Triumphs article). After writing down all of your thoughts, write down your triumphs for the day. By letting out all of your fears, frustrations and thoughts and then focusing on the positives of the day, you go to bed with a mind that is a lot more positive and happy.

Producing “happy chemicals” naturally

Your brain has the ability to release chemicals that make you feel happy. These chemicals, “happy chemicals”, are called Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphin. By making your brain produce more of these chemicals, your can decrease the symptoms of depression or anxiety. Producing these chemicals via natural ways may be better for your health than taking pills for your anxiety or depression. Before going off any medication, discuss with your therapist first.

Dopamine is a chemical that is released when you are close to reaching a goal. Predators have this chemical released when they are chasing a prey. The prey (food) being their goal and reward. Dopamine is the precursor to adrenaline and noradrenaline. Dopamine will make you feel good and adrenaline and noradrenaline increase your heart rate and focus. You can produce dopamine by setting yourself small goals and trying to reach them. Make sure you get a reward for reaching them.

Oxytocin is a happy chemical that is released when you are with people you have a bond with and who you trust. Serotonin is released when you get respect from your “herd” and have your confidence boosted. You can produce these chemicals by making friends, bonding with the friends, family or lovers you already have, doing a good deed for someone and by blocking those people who can’t be trusted out of your life. You can make new friends by joining a club about something you are interested in or doing a course. This can also be good practice for overcoming social anxiety. Bonding with your friends, family or lovers can be done by spending more time with them. Mail or call them to ask if they want to go do something with you. For your own happiness, it is important to decrease the amount of contact you have with people who put you down or have a negative influence on you. This may be hard, but it will do you good.

Endorphins are released when you are in pain. Animals and humans produce this chemical when they are injured, to mask the pain and feel stronger so they can get to safety. Funnily enough it is also produced from laughing and exercise. To produce this chemical, you could watch comedy or get some exercise. The release of endorphins while exercising is also known as a runner’s high.

Motivation and anxiety

Overcoming your fears will be one of the hardest, but also one of the most rewarding things you may ever do. It is going to be hard, because fear will make you want to quit. However, with enough motivation and reminders of what your goals are, you will be able to do it. Motivation is the desire to do something, so we need to awaken your desire to get over your fears.

Write down your goals (see fear ladder articles) and then write down why you want to achieve them. What would be the benefits of you overcoming your fears and how would it change your life? Regularly have a look at your goals. Hang them above your desk or somewhere else where you regularly see them. Make sure you are constantly reminded that you are working on your fears and of why you are working on your fears.
When your motivation starts to decrease or you find yourself not wanting to do something because of fear, have a look at your goals and your reasons for wanting to achieve them. Have a plan for when the urge to quit arises. Give yourself reasons not to quit. Write down: “I will never quit, because…”.

Chart your progress. Make a big list of all your goals. Be creative. You can draw your goals, make a visualized board of all your goals, or whatever else you enjoy doing. Then when you have achieved your goals, tick them off in a big way. Make it so that you can see what you have already achieved and what you still have to do to get over your fears completely. Put this somewhere so you see it a lot.

Aside from having clear goals and reasons for achieving them, it is very important to motivate yourself in other ways. Use whatever works for you. You can visualize yourself having achieved your goals. What would your life look like if you have overcome your fears? What would you be able to do that you can’t do now? Look for role models, people who have already overcome their fears. Use them as an example to yourself. Keep a picture or a story of them with you at all times or hang it up somewhere.
It also helps to make the process fun. Overcoming your fears is hard work, but making your exercises fun and silly or combining a hobby with your excersises or reflection makes it a lot less hard to do. If making it fun isn’t enough external motivation, you could also use rewards. Allow yourself to do or buy something you enjoy whenever you have achieved a certain goal.

The key to overcoming your fears is making sure you are constantly reminded of why you want to overcome them. To add to this motivation you can use small motivational tricks like making it fun or rewarding yourself. The motivation will mainly have to come from your own desire to overcome anxiety.

Mindfulness for anxiety

Mindfulness is an informal form of meditation, meaning it is a form of meditation, which you can do while doing something else. It helps you to focus on what you are doing and what you are thinking about, rather than working on automated pilot and letting your (negative) thoughts roam free.

Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your thoughts. It relaxes you by calming your nervous system and it helps block out negative thoughts.
By practicing mindfulness, you learn to accept what you are feeling even if it is a negative feeling. By accepting it, rather then stressing over it even more, the negative feelings will disappear. Mindful observation makes you more aware of unhelpful thoughts and reactions and makes it easier to stop them.
Being mindful means being in the present fully, experiencing everything with more awareness. You learn to focus on what you are doing, feeling, seeing, tasting, smelling and hearing without judging it. Just notice it is there and don’t try to assign any adjectives to it.

You can start practicing mindfulness right now, but be aware that it takes time and practice to build up the focus required to become fully mindful. When you lose your focus while practicing, do not think you have failed. Instead, just be aware that you lost focus and go back to your mindful state.

You should start with short sessions, of about 3-5 minutes. You can build up the length of your sessions when you have built up your focus. You can practice mindfulness while doing other activities.

A couple of examples are:
Eat an apple – close your eyes and really taste the apple. Notice the flavour, the juices seeping out of it and how the texture changes as you chew it. Notice it, but don’t judge it.

Have a bath – move your arms through the water slowly and notice how the water changes as you do it. You can also become aware of the feeling of warm water on your skin.

Listen to music – put on some music that you really like. Listen to it with full attention, with your eyes closed. Listen to the different instruments, the changes in the music and different tones. Again, do not judge it, just listen to it.

Go for a walk – go for a walk and notice all the things around you. Notice how the trees are blossoming, focus on walking itself, notice the people around you. Be fully aware of what is going on around you and your movement and senses.

While practicing mindfulness, you practice being fully in the moment without letting any (potentially negative) thoughts distract you.
Another form of informal meditation, which may help, is yoga. You could check if there are any classes in your area. Practicing meditation under supervision may help you learn to focus easier.

Changing negativity into positivity

When you suffer from anxiety or depression, you often think very negatively about yourself and your life. Changing these negative thoughts into more positive ones can help greatly with overcoming anxiety and depression.
There are several things you can do that will, with time, help you think more positively by blocking out the negative thoughts and making you more aware of the good things about yourself and your life.


The best way to make yourself aware of all the positive things in your life is to write them down. Get a notebook and write them down every night. Write down what you did really well today (triumphs), what you really enjoyed doing and what you are thankful for. Try to aim for at least three of each. If you want, you can also write down what you would like to improve on.
By doing this you become more aware of the positive things in your life and about yourself. With time this starts to crowd out the negative thoughts in your head and your anxiety and/or depression will start to get better.

Practice mindfulness.

Mindful meditation can help your anxiety and/or depression less bad by making you more aware of your thoughts and by relaxing you. More on this in an article next week.

Block negative people/things.

Sometimes other people can get you down. It can be better to block negative people out of your life, for your own good. People who talk negatively about you or complain all the time can make you feel more negative. Think about whether you still want to be around these people or whether they are good for you.
Off course, family members are hard to block out of your life, but it would be better for you if you limit the amount of contact with them until you at least feel better.

Things you really don’t enjoy doing are good to block out of your life as well. A club, chore, job you really hate can change your mindset to a very negative one. If you are with a club you don’t enjoy, leave it. If you have chores you don’t enjoy, ask someone else to do it or minimize the time you spend doing them. If you really don’t enjoy your job, start looking for a new one or maybe even start up your own business. If you work full time, you spend a quarter of your life in your job, so it is worth looking for something you enjoy doing. If necessary, get extra training or schooling.

Make plans for the future.

When suffering from depression, it can often seem like there is nothing to look forward to in your life. It can be good for you to make plans for the future.
Make a bucket list of all the things you would love to do in your life. Write down everything you would enjoy doing and what your dreams are.
Then proceed to write down where your would want to be in ten years. What you want your job to be, your dream home, your family and friends and what you would love to do with your free time. Also do this for what you want in 1,3 and 5 years.
Write down your dreams for the future and start making a plan for how to achieve this.

Be silly.

Do things that make you feel better and make your life fun. Have a silly dance in your room, watch funny movies, have a joke with your friends or family, look at yourself in the mirror and smile. Do things that you really enjoy and do things that are a bit silly. This is a good way to feel a bit less negative.

Techniques to control your anxiety

To get over anxiety, you will have to practice, practice, practice. However to be able to practice without having a full panic attack, it may be useful to learn some techniques which can relieve your anxiety when you feel an attack coming on.
There are several different techniques which all have their own up and downsides. Listed below are the techniques I would recommend. It is up to you to figure out which ones would be suitable for you and which ones work best for the moment.


You can use meditation to relax when you feel an anxiety attack coming on. To do this, you will first have to practice meditation in a relaxed environment, to build up the focus needed to use meditation when you need it most.
Look up different techniques for meditation by googling it or buying a book / going to the library to look up different meditation techniques. If you need more guidance, you can also look up local meditation classes. There will also be another article on meditation later on this website.
One meditation technique I would particularly recommend for anxiety is mindfulness, which is easy to incorporate in your daily life and helps greatly with focus and relaxation. More on this in a later article.

Muscle relaxation.

To do this technique, you will have to lie down. It will relax your entire body and this tension reduction will also reduce your anxious feelings.
Lie down comfortably. Then tense all of your muscles starting at your toes, up to your feet, ankles etc, building your way up to the top of your head. Tense you muscles for a couple of seconds and then release and go up to the next muscle. This will relieve the muscle tension and make you feel relaxed.

Measured breath.

This is a technique that doesn’t need any specific location or position. You can use this anywhere, as long as you are not extremely uncomfortable. To do this technique, you are going to breath in and out while counting how fast you are breathing. Much of your body is connected to your breathing. Breathing fast will make you more anxious, breathing slowly will relax you.
To do the breathing exercise, breath in slowly counting to five. Then breath out again, counting to five. Keep breathing in and out like this until you feel completely relaxed.
It also helps if you do breaths where your chest expands, rather than your stomach.


Another thing that works without too much effort is distraction. Your mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Choose between your anxious thought or something else. Distract yourself from your anxiety by doing or thinking about something else that takes up all of your attention. For instance, doing complicated maths or counting objects in your environment.


By writing, you can get all of you anxiety related thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Get some paper and a pen and write down everything that is going on in your head. Don’t filter anything or care about grammar or structure. Just write down everything that pops up in your head. This is also a good exercise to get more insight into your thoughts. By doing this you can expell all the negative thoughts from your head.
You can also take it a bit further by then analyzing your thoughts and thinking about whether these thoughts are actually true or if it is just negative self talk. Ask yourself: are these thoughts based on reality? Will this actually happen? etc.


Anxiety produces a lot of adrenaline. It puts your entire body and mind in a panic mode, producing symptoms such as dizziness, trembling, racing heart and sweating. This feeling could make you even more anxious, leading to an anxiety attack.
By exercising you burn off the adrenaline, making the anxious feeling disappear a lot quicker.
Doing exercises like going for a run, swim or a paced walk will make the anxiety go away faster. It will also produce “happy chemicals”, also know as a “runner’s high”, which will make you feel a lot more positive.

Repeating and going up to the next step

After having created your fear ladder (designing your fear ladder), having done one or more of your exercises (planning and challenging) and reflected on your exercises (reflecting), you should make a decision whether you want to go back a step, do the same exercise again or whether you feel confident enough to go up to the next exercise or fear.

The why.

It is important to feel comfortable and confident enough to go up to a bigger challenge. Do not overdo it, because this might lead to you having a panic attack and/or you might get discouraged to carry on. You should reread your reflections and determine whether you think you could go up to the next assignment, based on your confidence and anxiety levels. This way you get to practice your social skills and learn to control your anxiety without getting too anxious.
Take it nice and slow. It took a long time to get to this level of anxiety, so it’s going to take a long time to get it down again. “Slow and steady wins the race” is definitely a saying that applies to this.

The how.

Start by looking at the reflection of your previous assignment. How high were your stress and anxiety levels? Do you feel confident enough to go up to the next exercise? Or do you think you should do the exercise one, or a couple of times more? Or were you so anxious that you should go down a step?
It’s important to judge this by feeling. You will probably want to go as fast as you can, but in this case it is better not to. Only go up when you feel ready.

If your anxiety levels were very high, go down a step. If your anxiety levels were okay, but you don’t feel like you could go up a step, repeat the same exercise. If you did well and think you can take on a bigger challenge, go to the next exercise or fear on your fear ladder. Then plan the exercise you have chosen. Make sure you do not leave too much time between exercises. You have to keep up the momentum and by practicing often, you will improve all the quicker.

Once you have done the entire ladder, you are still going to have to practice regularly to not let the anxiety get worse again. Keep challenging yourself and come up with creative exercises to practice your social skills.
You can use exercises you have done before or you can come up with new, even more exciting ones.


If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, a small and simple thing you could do to help you feel better is writing down triumphs every night.
Write down what went well that day. This way you train your mind to look for the good things in a day. You will learn to think more positively and this will have a good effect on your mood and will lessen your anxiety.

Triumphs are things that went really well in your day. You can get a notebook or a text file on your computer to write down these things every night before going to bed. Triumphs can be big triumphs, but also little things. For example: “I did a great presentation”, “I am glad I said yes to going to that dinner party”, “I did great standing next to something I am afraid of”, “I did a great job asking for help at the train station” or “helping that old lady with her luggage was a great thing to do of me”.

The why.

Triumphs can help you think more positively. By forcing your mind to come up with things that went really well that day, you are training yourself to look for positivity.
By actively seeking for things that went well, you will have less time to think about the negative things in your life and you will be more aware of the positive things. It will change your mindset, which can be a great improvement in your mood and how confident you feel.
By practicing looking for positive things, positivity will become more and more natural to you. You will start to automatically look for the good things, rather than having that little negative voice in your head, saying negative things about you and your life.
It will also improve your life, because it will motivate you to do something good. You want to have triumphs to write down in the evening, so you start to do things that you could write down as a triumph. You could start to actively seek out things you can do, that will make you feel good about yourself. Or you may even start to do random good deeds to write down in your journal.

Keeping a journal of triumphs will also be a nice diary, to look back upon the great things you have done. If you feel a bit down, you can have a look at your journal and read all of the good things you have done. It is a great pep and will help you feel a bit better about yourself. It will also help you appreciate little things more, because even on days where you haven’t done something absolutely amazing, you will still need to look for something positive, even if it is something very small.

The how.

Get a notebook, diary, blog or create a text file on your computer. Notebooks are better because they feel more real and are nicer to look back on what you have done. They are also easier to keep, because a notebook doesn’t crash and delete everything. You can just keep it in a bookcase, on your desk or on a night stand. Also writing by hand gives you more time to think about how you are going to phrase and the triumphs will stay with you longer, because you have written it down on a piece of paper. You can also carry a notebook with you easier. This might be handy for the first couple of weeks, when perhaps you would want to write down your triumphs immediately after they have happened, instead of in the evening before bed. Though, a text file on a computer will provide more privacy, if you have people living with you.

You can then set a time for yourself when you want to write down your triumphs. I would recommend doing this just before bed time, so you don’t miss anything. You could also carry your notebook with you, to write it down right when the positive thing happened. Writing it down in the evening would train your mind to remember it better though and the positive thought will linger in your head for longer.
Always write down at least three things that went really well that day. They don’t have to be huge things, even the little things matter. Just write them down and then reread them.
If you ever feel a bit down, you can also grab your triumphs and reread them then. If you want to improve on something, you could also write down one thing that didn’t go very well that day, but always make sure the positive things are way more than the negative things. I would recommend having three positive things to one negative thing.
Do this every night and in time you will find that looking for the positive things in life will become easier every time.

Reflecting (fear ladder method)

After having done your assignments (here), it is time to reflect on how you did and how you felt. This can be done by answering a couple of simple questions and by writing down your triumphs.

The why.

Reflecting on your exercises can help you gain more insight into your anxiety and how to get over it. It can also help you think more positively about the experience by blocking out your negative inner voice.
By writing a reflection you give yourself more time to think about what actually happened, rather than letting your negative feelings about the situation take control. It will also be useful to look back and see progress in your anxiety levels.
After having written the answers to the questions and your triumphs, you can use your reflection to determine whether you want to repeat the assignment or if you want to go up a step on your fear ladder.

The how.

This can be separated into two sections: reflecting questions and triumphs. Write the answer to the questions and your triumphs down in a notebook or type it out on your computer. Make sure you can look back on it.

Reflecting questions.

The biggest part of your reflection is answering a couple of questions.
Make sure you write positive things, rather than letting the negative voices in your head take control. Be honest and be specific.

1. Where were your, when, with whom?
2. Rate your anxiety levels 1-10 before the exercise.
3. Rate your anxiety levels 1-10 during the exercise.
4. What happened?
5. What were you thinking and feeling?
6. Did you have any anxiety symptoms, which?
7. How did the other(s) respond?
8. Was it really as bad as your thought it would be?
9. What did you learn?
10. Anything else you would like to mention?


Write down at least one triumph. What did you think you did very well? What were you particularly proud of? What would you consider a victory for you? Write down as many as you can think of, but at least one.
More detail on writing triumphs will be described in the next article.

Planning your assignments and challenging your fears

The next step in overcoming your social anxiety is to plan and challenge. Before this we have observed (here) and designed our fear ladder (here).
Now it is time to plan your assignments and to challenge your fears by doing these assignments.

The why.

Doing what is called “exposure therapy” can help you overcome your anxiety. By doing what scares you, you become more confident in the situations that were previously outside your comfort zone. Remember the phrase “practice makes perfect”. By exposing yourself to social situations, you will build up your social skills and your confidence in these situations. You will become better and better at dealing with your anxiety and at speaking to people. By gaining confidence in social settings, your anxiety will become less and less and eventually you will be able to speak to people without feeling anxious.

The how.

This part of the process has two separate steps: planning and challenging.


To plan your assignments, pick the least scary assignment of your least scary situation from your fear ladder.
Write it down in your diary or schedule, along with a couple more assignments. Planning it will make you less likely to keep moving the assignments back, out of fear of doing it. Make sure not to leave too much time between assignments. You will want to keep the momentum going. Also, pick a time and day when you can definitely do it, no excuses possible.
You might also want to set an alarm and to tell someone close to you that you are going to do this assignment. This will help with a bit of social pressure and will make you more likely to actually do the assignment.

Once you have planned your assignments in your diary or schedule, give your first assignment a rating 1-10 of how scary you think it is going to be. Also, write down how you feel about it and what worries you. Then write down whether what you’re worried about is actually grounded in reality, e.g. is what you are worried is going to happen actually likely to happen?


Now is the time to challenge your fears, by doing your assignments from your self-designed ladder.
Do your assignments right at the time you designated in your diary. Do not postpone, because the want to postpone is coming from your fear.
If you do hold off, you are very likely to never do it at all. Also, make sure you don’t give yourself a lot of time to think about what could go wrong. Distract yourself on the way to where you need to be and then do it straight away without hesitation. Don’t give yourself time to worry, because this will increase your anxiety levels.
While doing your assignments, be aware of how the other person is responding to you. Are they as negative as you thought they would be? Notice their true feelings by monitoring their expressions and body language. If you want, you can also just ask them how they thought you were doing. Often their opinion of you will be a lot more positive than your opinion of yourself. Asking what they think of you may give you more of an insight in whether your opinion of yourself is actually based in reality.
Also, while doing your assignments, be aware of how you are feeling. Are you feeling any anxiety symptoms? If so, make sure you calm down. Techniques for calming down will be described in a following article. And after doing the assignment you can write down how you felt about it and how you were feeling at the time (see next article).