Stress Journal: Helping Yourself Cope

Published on September 27, 2016 by arothstein

Most of us stopped keeping a diary or journal when we were in middle school or even sooner. Unfortunately, this is a habit that we should have continued. Studies show time and time again that the act of writing down your feelings provides you with an outlet. It allows you to self-report what is going on with your emotions. Using a stress journal to help you through how you are feeling to assess, categorize, and put into words the reasons you are experiencing certain emotions makes you inordinately more prepared to deal with not only the emotions but also the life experiences that are causing them.

College is a time of great stress. You are required to keep a strict schedule and maintain a taxing routine of learning and preparing for assessments of your knowledge. While it may seem counter intuitive to add in one additional writing practice to your already busy schedule, research shows that college students can greatly benefit from journaling. One study showed that college students who journal make less visits to student health for physical illnesses. Another study showed that college students who journal regularly felt less anxiety and dealt with less external conflict that students who did not.  

As you consider adopting a journaling practice, don’t think that you are going to have to spend hours pouring over your journal to gain the positive benefits. Instead, research indicates that the ideal amount of time to spend journaling daily to see positive outcomes is only 15 minutes per day, four to five days per week. Also, there is no need to keep a paper and pen journal. Blogging anonymously or even journaling into a blank word document is also effective.

Once you have decided to journal, your journal can take any form that you find useful. You can sketch, doodle, design, and write just about anything inside that you wish. However, in order for the journal to be an effective tool for managing stress, you are going to have to spend some time writing in a more methodical manner. First, using your journal as a tool for dealing with stress means that you will document things that are causing you to feel stress, how you are dealing with them, how you want to deal with them, and how you can prevent the situations in the future.

The best way to start is by looking closely at one stressful event. Take a few minutes to summarize the stressful situation. Make sure to include what happened immediately before it and what you did immediately after it. Name who was involved, where you were, exactly what happened that made it stressful, and any other details that you think are important. Then you are going to re-read what you have written. Looking back on your account of the situation, you need to ask yourself whether or not the other people involved in the situation likely viewed it in the same way. Did you overreact? How could you have handled the situation better? Is there a point that you could have left the situation to prevent the stress from escalating?

As you record more and more events, you will be able to identify patterns, work on strategies to deal with your common stressors, and avoid stressful situations whenever possible.

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