Journaling for Beginners to Relieve Stress
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
Learn the benefits of journaling to relieve stress and two helpful strategies for beginners
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Look no further-journaling is one of the best ways to build self-awareness, improve emotional intelligence, and reduce stress.
You've probably read about a million ways to do this and are not sure where to start. Don't worry, I got you.
Whether you are a beginner or have been at it for a while, you're going to learn:
-the benefits of journaling,
-how it helps with stress reduction,
-and two great ways to do it to relieve stress and anxiety specifically.
Journaling for Beginners: The Benefits
Journaling is the process of recording feelings, thoughts, behaviors, pleasant and difficult situations, and other important observations about us and our lives. Journaling is a form of self-monitoring, which is the practice of taking inventory of our experiences to build self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
Journaling has been proven to be a highly effective strategy for learning more about ourselves. This can help us to manage stress, improve mood, and increase self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Journaling has also been shown to decrease health conditions, strengthen the immune system, and improve cognitive functioning.
Research has indicated that journaling can have a series of benefits for chronic illness symptom reduction and physical health. Studies have indicated that writing about stressful life experiences in those with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis led to clinically significant improvements in their health status at four months, including improved lung function and overall disease activity.
Other studies have indicated improved liver function, immune system functioning, reduced blood pressure, and fewer stress-related visits to the doctor.
In a study of undergraduate students who tested positive for a virus causing mononucleosis, journaling was shown to increase antibodies and improve immune system functioning.
Therefore, journaling can be a helpful strategy to manage overall health, as well as chronic health conditions.
Better Cognitive Functioning
Research has also indicated that journaling offers various cognitive benefits. Those who journal with expressive writing have been found to have better working memory, performance, and problem-solving abilities.
Because journaling helps to reduce stress, this may also improve overall attention and focus that is often disrupted by high levels of stress and anxiety.
Improved Emotional Well-Being
Journaling has been consistently shown to improve emotional well-being by decreasing symptoms of stress and anxiety. Journaling has been shown to be an effective intervention for decreasing overall mental distress and increasing well-being.
Because journaling involves identifying emotions, thoughts, and problems, journaling allows people to gain better self-awareness, leading to earlier identification of emotional symptoms that may lead to a series of consequences.
Journaling can be especially helpful in identifying unhelpful thought processes that often occur when people are experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression. Journaling also provides opportunities to identify triggers to changes in mood, which can help with early detection and prevention of significant mood concerns that may interfere with productivity, energy, and social interactions.
Various studies have found a significant reduction in anxiety related mental distress, as well as symptom reduction in those with major depressive disorder after journaling.
Expressive writing through journaling has also been shown to reduce PTSD related symptoms, especially under the guidance of a mental health professional.
Journaling can also be helpful for improving sleep, which is crucial for mood management and overall well being. People often have trouble falling and staying asleep at night due to racing thoughts and processing what has happened in their day. Therefore, journaling can be helpful for processing while awake rather than when trying to sleep.
Research has also indicated that spending 5 minutes writing a to-do-list for the next day can be particularly helpful in reducing the time it takes to fall asleep.
3 tools to calm your mind before bed
How to Start Journaling for Beginners
There are many powerful benefits of journaling and reasons to get started when you are a beginner. The good news is, there are many ways to get started. One thing to note is that consistency is the key to success when it comes to receiving the benefits of journaling for stress relief and overall health.
Follow the steps below to get you set up for regular journaling:
Step 1: Identify where and when you will journal. Will this be daily, weekly, or some other kind of schedule?
If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend starting with 20 minutes at a consistent time in your day. Most people find that they are successful in journaling in the morning or evening since there are less interruptions. Consistency is what is most important, while the time of day is less relevant.
Choose a schedule that works for you and plan to incorporate journaling into your routine.
Step 2: Determine how you will journal. There are many ways to journal, including writing in a notebook or typing. Writing is especially beneficial for journaling, but either method of journaling will offer benefits.
Choose the technique that will help you to journal most consistently. Prepare any materials that are needed for you to be successful in journaling (e.g. purchase a notebook).
Step 3: Minimize distractions. To get the full benefits of journaling, it is important to minimize other distractions. Starting with a short time for journaling can be helpful in keeping focus and decreasing distractions and inattention.
2 Journaling Ideas for Stress Relief
There are many ways to journal. Here are two journaling ideas both for beginners and those familiar with journaling that can help specifically with decreasing stress and anxiety.
1. Setting a Worry Time for Stress Management
This is a highly effective journaling strategy to specifically deal with stressors and worries. This journaling exercise can be helpful for reducing stress and anxiety and help to quiet a racing mind at night before bed.
This is a beneficial strategy because it involves both problem solving and coping.
It also helps slow down our worrisome thoughts and allows us to address one thought at a time.
Step 1: Set aside 15-20 minutes for this exercise. Make sure that you are not doing anything else during this exercise and minimize distractions. Consider a time of the day in which you find yourself worrying the most. Make sure that this is not right before bed however, so it does not interfere with sleep.
Step 2: Create two columns. In the first column, write out each stressful or worrisome thought. In the second column, address your worry or concern with a plan to address it, coping strategies, positive self-talk, or anything else that will help you address the thought.
Do not move on to the next thought until you have addressed the previous thought. This does not need to be a full solution, but rather a combination of problem solving and problem coping.
"I don’t know if I will have enough money to pay my bills"
-I will go through all my bills and add up how much I owe -I will ask my credit card company for an extension -I will create a budget -I have enough money for my basic expenses at this time
"I am so overwhelmed with work: I will never finish"
-This feels overwhelming now, but I know that I can finish it because I have before -I am going to break down the bigger tasks into smaller ones and tackle them one at a time -I will prioritize what is most important and start there -I am going to make sure that I take a 10–15-minute break to relieve stress and help me with focus.
"I yelled at my wife and now we are not speaking"
-I will work on reducing my stress levels to interact more effectively -I am going to apologize to my wife now that I have calmed down -I am going to work on my communication skills so I can communicate better
2. Externalizing for Stress Management
Externalizing for stress management is a specific journaling exercise that is helpful for processing a specific situation or stressful event that has occurred. By externalizing (getting the situation out of our mind), we are able to better process the event and decrease stress. It is helpful to choose situations that are particularly stressful, saddening, or bothersome.
Step 1: Set aside 15-20 minutes to write about the upsetting situation
Step 2: Write about the event that was stressful or upsetting in detail with the following steps:
a) Describe the event in detail. Write about the location, people involved, and what happened. Try to be as detailed as possible.
b) Write about the emotions that you felt during the situation. Allow yourself to write exactly how you were feeling and be as open and honest as you can. Also record how you are feeling about the situation in the current moment.
c) Identify what was most upsetting to you about situation to learn more about your triggers to stress
d) Journal about what you may have learned from the situation or how you may address a similar situation moving forward
3 Mistakes for Beginners to Avoid
The two strategies listed above can be especially helpful for relieving stress and anxiety through journaling. To make journaling the most effective for stress reduction, do your best to avoid the following mistakes:
1) Too much pressure: A common mistake is putting too much pressure on the journaling itself. The purpose of this activity is to relieve stress. Therefore, watch for any perfectionistic tendencies that may be coming out or unnecessary pressure on yourself to journal in the “right” way. There really is no right way, if it is helpful for you. Therefore, look at this as an activity for stress relief rather than attempting to do it perfectly.
2) Inconsistent journaling: One of the best ways to get stress relief benefits from journaling is to stay consistent in your practice. Figure out a schedule and routine that works for you and do your best to stick with it. Start small and choose a schedule that is achievable for you.
3) No post-journaling plan: Once we have completed our journaling exercises, it is important to shift gears and transition into the rest of the day. We want to change the channel in the mind so to speak instead of continuing to think about the topics of journaling.
Engaging the deep relaxation response with deep breathing or muscle relaxation, starting a new activity, or anything else that’s helpful for stress reduction can be a good way to transition into the rest of your day.
Journaling can have significant benefits for overall health, cognitive performance, sleep, and mood. Journaling can be especially helpful for reducing stress and anxiety.
Consider the specific journaling exercises for stress reduction mentioned today and see how you can incorporate them into your routine for better mood and stress management.
Want to learn the all the essentials of mastering your stress? Download my free Master Stress Essentials Guide to get the scoop on all things stress management and becoming your most productive self.
-------About Dr. Julia
Hi! I'm Dr. Julia. Health psychologist, stress and sleep expert, and creator of the Master Stress Method.
I have worked with thousands of individuals in major hospitals, university medical centers, and primary care settings to improve their stress levels, sleep, and overall emotional and physical well being.
My current focus is helping busy professionals prevent and manage the high stress that is getting in the way of their productivity, mood, sleep, and their ability to reach their full potential.
My 8-week, 1:1 coaching program has helped hundreds of stressed out, overwhelmed, and burned out clients significantly reduce their stress and anxiety, improve their sleep, and maximize their productivity, in just 8 short weeks.
I can't wait to help you stop the struggle with stress, for good. Let's chat :)