Journaling to Help Manage Stress
Stress affects everyone differently. Some people thrive on stress, always rushing around and buzzing with energy. Other people become super agitated, burnt out, and can even experience behaviour changes. There are positive effects of stress that we can all tap into. It can give you more energy to help you get things done quicker, and strength when things get difficult.
Our bodies are very sophisticated. We all have a fight-flight-freeze mechanism to help us deal with stress. Over a long period of time, this can result in different sorts of aches and pains. You might experience muscle tension, especially in your back and shoulders. Along with headaches, migraines, high blood pressure and poor digestion. This is because the body's resources get directed away from the digestive system to provide energy in other areas, just in case we need to escape quickly. Without this built-in stress mechanism, a human would not survive.
An important aspect of controlling stress is to recognise the situations that cause you to become stressed. Without this information, it can be very difficult to avoid stressful situations.
One way to identify your stress triggers is to keep a stress journal.
What is a stress journal?
Keeping a stress journal is the process of noting down stressful or anxious moments, to help us better understand the causes. Almost everyone experiences stressful situations sometimes, or more often, whether these are caused by feeling under pressure, worrying about something, facing big changes, or times of uncertainty.
This is where a journal can make a huge difference. By keeping a journal of stressful situations and environmental factors, the cause of the stress can be identified. Your journal acts as a cue or prompt, reminding you that you should take some action.
Why do you need a stress journal?
A stress journal can be a valuable tool in learning how to cope with stress. It allows you to monitor your stress levels, identify the causes of your stress, and how you are dealing with them. We all have our own response to stress, no two journals will be the same.
Whilst researchers aren’t entirely sure how keeping a journal helps with stress relief, but it is thought that journaling:
Helps you clarify your thoughts and emotions
Gives reflection on your life’s journey by looking back at past entries
Gives you time to reflect on your feelings and emotions so that you can better understand them
Provides an outlet for expressing difficult emotions, such as anger and frustration, without hurting someone you care about
Is a way to release your negative thoughts and emotions so that you can move on to a happier state of mind
How to use a stress journal
One of the most difficult aspects of journaling is not the journaling itself but finding time to write. We often put the needs of others first, but it’s important to take time for our own self-care.
Many people prefer to write in the morning as a way to start their day, or before bed as a way to reflect upon the day’s events. However, if your lunch break or some other time is your only window of opportunity, take the time wherever you can get it!
There are no set rules for journaling, write down whatever comes to mind. No one is going to read it so, don’t worry about neat handwriting, spelling or grammar. The important thing is to get your thoughts on paper as they come to you.
Getting started can be difficult. If you’re struggling with what to write here are a few things you could include:
The date and time
How do you feel on a scale of 1-10?
How your body feels. Do you feel any tension anywhere?
On a scale of 1-10, how effectively are you working right now?
What has caused you to feel stressed
What symptoms you had. Pressure in the hands or throat? Stomach-churning?
Writing your thoughts down might be tough in the beginning, but just getting it on paper will give you a sense of relief.
What you can learn from your stress journal
Analysing your journal should help give you a better understanding of what is causing you stress, how to identify your triggers, how to prepare, and how to manage your stress.
First, take a look at the different stresses you experienced. Which ones popped up the most? Which ones were the most unpleasant?
Can you highlight any underlying causes that might need to be addressed?
Then, look through your journal at the situations that made you feel stressed. Write down ways you can change these types of situations for the better.
Of course, there are some downsides that can come from journaling. You might experience overwhelming emotions from dragging up memories that you would rather forget.
However, the benefits of journaling far outweigh the disadvantages or potential problems. Over time, you might find journaling helps decrease your stress levels. If not, don't be afraid to seek professional help from a doctor or therapist.