Many of us kept a diary when we were younger, hidden away from prying eyes and filled with our everyday thoughts, struggles, and emotions. But then we grew up, and the responsibilities of life got in the way of writing in our journals.
This is exactly what makes journaling even more important today as we navigate life’s stresses and challenges. When you journal, you can gain more clarity of thought about what you’re struggling with within that moment, which improves your overall mental health.
But What Is Stress?
People carelessly use the word “stress” in conversations. However, when people genuinely say they’re stressed, they’re usually referring to a much more serious mental and emotional condition. Simply put, stress is your physical and psychological reaction to something that upsets your balance. The more extreme the upset or stressor, the greater your reaction.
Now, some stressors can occur suddenly, such as the loss of a loved one through death or divorce, loss of a job or business, or an unexpected medical diagnosis. Most times, however, stress builds over time, like when we choose to stay in unhealthy relationships, cope with an unpleasant boss, regret missed opportunities, or accept circumstances that are detrimental to our well-being.
Stress is a perfectly normal response because it signals that we’re off balance. However, you should not ignore these symptoms of stress:
- Physical aches and pains
- Poor sleep quality
- Generalized anxiety
- Decreased interest in sex or relationships
- Heart palpitations and panic attacks
- Constant fatigue
- Tension in the jaw, shoulders, and back
- Poor immunity, leading to frequent infections
- Over- or under-eating
- Sudden mood changes
- Outbursts of anger or crying
- Dependence on substances like drugs and alcohol
Benefits of Journaling for Stress Management
Journaling is an evidence-based strategy for stress management, as numerous studies have demonstrated. Studies about expressive writing have found that journaling reduces blood pressure and improves immunity, leading to fewer doctors’ visits and shorter hospital stays and improved mood and memory. Journaling is such a powerful stress management tool because it helps us to:
- Identify and Prioritize Your Stressors
Recognizing the key causes of stress in your life is a solid step towards stress management. If your stressors are not readily apparent, write a daily journal for a week or two and then read your entries. It may be easy to identify the recurring themes that point to your stress.
- Recognize Stress Triggers
If certain people, things, or situations trigger your stress and anxiety, you can learn to spot them early and avoid them as much as possible. If the stressors are unavoidable, you can incorporate exercises like breathing or personal mantras to manage your reactions.
- Catch Negative Thoughts and Behaviors Early
Negative self-talk and intrusive thoughts are considerable challenges in stress management. Journaling teaches you to recognize and organize your thoughts and shift from a negative to a positive perspective.
- Brainstorm Solutions to Reduce or Eleminate Your Stressors
With your stressors identified, journaling can help you think about creative solutions to improve the quality of your life. This may mean reducing contact with stressful people and increasing the time you spend doing the things you love with people who care about you.
- Gain Valuable Self-Knowledge
Self-awareness is an invaluable gift. Knowing who you really are, means that very little can upset your balance. You will know what to care about and what to let go of, which is a great stress management skill.
- Process Traumatic Events in a Controlled Way
It’s perfectly normal for our minds to shy away from addressing traumatic events that cause us tremendous stress. However, these events will surface at certain points in time, either through panic attacks, angry outbursts, withdrawal, or other unhealthy ways. Journaling gives you control over the traumatic event as you calmly process the emotions and behaviors linked to the event.
- Direct Your Attention to More Positive, Wholesome Life Events and Emotions
Good things are worth recognizing and celebrating, and unfortunately, they may be so small that we ignore them. Include in your journal that great cup of coffee you had, that heartwarming smile from a loved one, a clear, sunny day, or even just a good drive home from work. It’s the simple things that can steer our focus from negativity and stress.
How to Journal
Journaling doesn’t necessarily involve pen and paper, especially with the advent of journaling apps for smartphones. Try both a traditional notepad and a journaling app to see what works best for you. Keep the following tips in mind to get the most benefits from journaling:
- Write Every Day
You may set a reminder every day to write a journal entry or write whenever you feel overwhelmed, regardless of the time of day. The aim is to build a journaling habit to figure out the best time that works for you.
- Keep Your Journal at Hand
If you prefer to keep a notebook or diary, keep it within reach. If you choose a smartphone journaling app, pin the icon to your home screen.
- Don’t Limit Yourself to Words
We understand that not all people can express themselves adequately with the written word. Remember, your journal does not judge you, so you can sketch, draw or doodle, attach photos, write on the margins, and ignore spelling mistakes, as long as you can freely capture your emotions.
- Decide Whether to Share Your Journal
The contents of a journal should be private, but they can help close friends and loved ones to understand your situation. You could try sharing an entry with a trustworthy companion to foster empathy and improve your communication.
Types of Journals for Stress Management
A blank page can be daunting even to the best of writers, but thankfully there are some easy-to-start journals that you can explore:
- A Gratitude Journal
This is a simple, effective type of journal that focuses on the positive aspects of everyday life. Take a few minutes of your day to write down at least three things in your life that you are grateful for. A gratitude journal also creates a record of positivity that you can always return to whenever your struggles resurface.
- An Emotional Release Journal
This works best with smartphone journaling because when you’re in the moment of anger, depression, or anxiety, you can grab your phone and type away. At the same time, you can journal about positive experiences that might overwhelm you as well. An emotional release journal is mainly for catharsis, which helps to manage pent-up emotions.
- A Planning Journal
Sometimes planning out your day with a to-do list can help you calm down and focus on what’s important. A planning journal uses checklists to organize our time and unclutter our minds. You can list items according to priority, with allowance for schedule changes to minimize anxiety.
Challenges of Journaling
Although journaling has proven benefits for managing stress, it may not work for everyone. For example, individuals living with learning disabilities or physical disabilities may find writing difficult. Other than physical challenges, most of us may short of time, find journaling a trivial task, or simply be unwilling to face our stress in constructive ways.
Let’s not forget those of us who are perfectionists who may become overly concerned with their handwriting, grammar, language, even the quality of pen and paper or journaling app, which distracts from reducing stress.
There are workarounds to these challenges, such as using voice notes or recordings of your journal entries instead of writing by hand or typing. Text-to-speech can also convert your voice into written journal entries.
Structure each journal entry to always conclude with gratitude, solutions to problems, or your hopes and aspirations. Ending your journal entry on a positive note can decrease anxiety and encourage you to keep on writing.
You can also combine journaling with a relaxing activity to encourage you to adopt the habit easier. For example, brew a good cup of your favorite tea and enjoy it while you journal, or cuddle with your pet, or play some music in the background to get your thoughts flowing. This makes your journal time special and worth looking forward to after a long, stressful day.
Journaling on its own may not be enough to manage stress, especially if you also struggle with major depression and addiction. For the greatest benefits to your mental health, combine journaling with:
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Regular exercise
- Daily meditation and relaxation
- Avoiding alcohol and drugs
- Adequate sleeping time
Take Some Private Time Away from Stress Today
Journaling is a healthy practice for stress management, but sometimes life can become more overwhelming than daily journals can resolve. That is why Tikvah Lake Recovery in Florida offers a personalized retreat for mental health recovery. We prioritize your privacy and offer the most experienced clinical and medical staff, as well as spiritual and culinary professionals, to help with addiction and mental health treatment. Get in touch with Tikvah Lake for bespoke mental health rehabilitation for yourself or a loved one today.