Stress is a normal, physical, chemical reaction to danger, to change, deadlines, and the unknown. Stress can motivate you to action and help you meet the challenges of everyday life. It is meant, biologically speaking, to help you in the short term. But in this age of over stimulus from social media, email, and 24/7 information overload, stress all too often becomes an ever-present companion. A chronic condition.
It is as though you are constantly poised in a flight or fight state. And over time, this chronic stress produces a number of unhealthy psychological and physical conditions.
Psychological symptoms of chronic stress include:
- feeling anxious, easily agitated, frustrated, or moody
- feeling overwhelmed, like life is out of control
- having a difficult time relaxing and quieting your mind
- feeling unworthy and depressed
- feeling tired all the time
- experiencing frequent headaches
- having trouble getting to or staying asleep (insomnia)
Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce stress, including exercise and meditation. And it’s common knowledge, through studies conducted over the last twenty years, that regular journal writing has positive, stress-reducing results. For many of us, simply writing down our feelings on a regular basis—having a private, safe place to vent—is enough to release the emotional pressure stress produces. Others of us need a structured way to move from the negative or unpleasant feelings of stress, such as irritation and overwhelm, to positive feelings, such as hope, confidence, and a renewed sense of energy.
If, like me, you could use some guidance to climb out of the depths of stress, I recommend trying the following journaling techniques and prompts:
- Perform a word association exercise starting with the word “stress.” When you’re done, take a few moments to review the list of words. Notice trends, repetitions, and overall tone, and circle any words that evoke a strong emotional response.
Choose one of the circled words and complete the sentence: When I read the word ______, I think of … Then freewrite for at least ten minutes about the memory the word evokes.
- Make a list of five to ten things in your life that contribute to your feelings of stress. For each item, write a statement of choice. For example, one of my five stressors is lack of sleep because I get up so early to go to work, and I often resent “having” to do so. My statement of choice is: I choose to get up early so I have time to write before I go to work.
After you have written your five choice statements, read them aloud. Then, write about how the word “choose” makes you feel in comparison to a “have to” statement.
- Close your eyes and take three to five deep, centering breaths. Imagine you are in your favorite place in nature—a park, the redwoods, at the coast—strolling quietly and observing everything around you. When you can see the place clearly in your mind, and you feel calm, open your eyes and write about what you imagined. Focus on the details. What did you see? Did you imagine smells and sounds, or wildlife? How did it feel to be in this place? How do you feel now?
- Write about a positive experience you had today or yesterday. What made the experience positive? What happened and how did you feel right after it occurred? How do you feel after writing about it?
- Write and send a note (or email or Facebook wall post) of appreciation to someone who has helped you or made your life more pleasant in some way. After sending the note, freewrite about the note-writing process. What would it be like to write such a note every day for a week?
Stress may be a normal part of life, but you don’t have to let it take over your body and mind. Journaling is one of the best methods I know to de-stress and shift from negative to positive feelings.
Try one or more of these prompts, then come back and leave a comment about your experience.