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Journaling to Alleviate Stress

Journaling is a hot topic when it comes to managing stress – and there’s a reason why it’s so popular. Despite what people may think, journaling can be a really effective activity for alleviating stress. 

It’s something I’m a huge fan of myself- I’ve actually been keeping journals since 2015. I began journaling at a time when I really needed an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. I purchased my very first journal in San Diego, just as my relationship was starting to break down. Journaling gave me the space to work through my emotions and gain clarity on my situation, my thoughts, and my reactions.

Six years later, and I still find power in journaling. In fact, I now use two different journals for my reflective practice as a coach. This process helps me to decompress, learn and recall any situations, emotions, or feelings I want to take into supervision.

Journaling is just one example of a Positive Psychology Intervention. But it is one that offers multiple benefits to those who use it. 

By taking a small amount of time- daily, weekly, or even monthly- to write our feelings down, we allow ourselves to express our thoughts and work through our emotions. Investing in a journaling routine gives us a chance to minimise anxieties, and bring awareness to our feelings through focused examination and self-reflection.

What is Journaling?

Journaling is a simple concept- it’s the practise of writing and recording our feelings. Journaling came into public awareness in the 1960s, when Dr. Ira Progoff, a psychologist in New York City, began offering workshops and classes in the use of what he called the “Intensive Journal method”. This practice gradually became more popular, and it has now grown into something of a phenomenon.

It’s not too difficult to see why. In a recent study, journaling was found to be an effective means of stress relief, and holds an advantage over other self-care practices due to its accessibility, low cost and convenience. 

Essentially functioning as a self-expression and self-reflection tool, journaling is a science-based Positive Psychology exercise that allows us to release pent-up emotions and make important connections between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Types of journaling

There are no rules to journaling- you can write about what you like and when! But if you’re struggling to get started, think about what kind of journal you would like to write and what method of journaling would be most helpful to you.

Some examples of journaling types are:

  • Free-flow journals
  • Guided journals
  • Gratitude journals

Free-flowing journals involve writing down your thoughts, without censoring or editing them. These kinds of journals help you tap into precisely what you’re thinking, regardless of how strange or silly it can seem. They’re particularly helpful if you’re looking to get to grips with a specific topic, emotion, or scenario, and give clarity to your current thought processes.

You can also use guided journals if you feel like you would benefit from prompts along the way. Free-flow journaling can be hard if you’re just getting started out so guided journals can be a more friendly introduction to expressive writing. You can create prompts yourself, such as your thoughts towards work or self-care, and you can even revisit the same prompts to gain an insight into how your feelings have changed over time. There are plenty of journals out there that provide their own prompts if this is something you’re more comfortable with.

If you’re not so keen on these particular styles, creating a gratitude journal may be more up your street. This allows you to focus on things that you’re grateful for, and show appreciation for the positive things you have in your life.

Benefits of journaling

Journaling is hugely beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing, as it allows you to translate your feelings and thoughts onto paper with no judgement whatsoever. This can make it a cathartic stress relief experience, as you have the opportunity to root out those negative emotions and release them safely.

Studies have shown that individuals who journal on past traumatic events had improved health functioning, such as increased immune functioning, reduced depression, and fewer visits to the doctor. Hence why it’s known as the ‘talking cure’.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information has carried out several studies into journaling, examining the wellbeing of patients with elevated anxiety. The studies confirmed that over a 12-week period, journaling decreased mental distress and increased wellbeing, and after at least one month of practice, promoted a greater sense of resilience in patients.

Journaling and expressive writing is something that we focus on here at CHAMPS, and forms a fundamental foundation in our path towards Mental Wealth. By taking the time to tap into our thoughts and record our feelings, the lighter our emotions become. We’re more easily able to deal with any obstacles we may face, and become better at cultivating our own mental wellbeing toolbox that can be called upon when needed.

How you can use Journaling to alleviate stress

We all experience our own unique stresses, but these can be alleviated through effective journaling. It has the power to reframe your mindset and bring quiet and calm to any anxieties you may feel. 

By writing down our worries, we can disentangle the confusion of thoughts that can sometimes cloud our minds, and begin to approach them with a sense of clarity. This is why it’s especially important to re-read your writing as soon as you’ve finished it- you’ll then be able to focus on solutions to any specific problems, fears or concerns, and regain a sense of control.

Exploring your thoughts and feelings in this way gives you an opportunity to identify negative behaviour, as well as any trigger points that cause you daily stress or anxiety. By bringing more awareness to our feelings, the better we become at dealing with them.

Journaling isn’t just about making sense of the present- it’s also incredibly helpful when trying to build confidence and resilience for the future. By using prompts, you can explore your strengths and develop a plan for any goals and ambitions you may have. 

One goal-oriented journaling exercise I really enjoy is the Best Possible Self intervention by King (2001). This exercise promotes a positive view of oneself in the best possible future, after working hard towards it.

You can try the Best Possible Self exercise by following the below steps:

  • Choose a future time period (e.g.  1 year from now)
  • Imagine that at that time you are expressing your best possible self (BPS) strongly. 
  • Visualise your best possible self in a way that is pleasing to you and that you are interested in
  • Imagine in vivid detail that you have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing your goals. The point here is to think of things that are positive and attainable
  • After you have a clear image, write about the details. 
  • Writing your best possible self down helps to create a logical structure for the future and can help you move from the realm of foggy ideas and fragmented thoughts to concrete, real possibilities
  • Be sure to write about your strengths that you observe in this visualisation

Research has shown that the BPS intervention can be a valuable Positive Psychology Intervention to improve wellbeing, and it could also be more effective for older participants and with shorter practices.

Journals can be used in any way you choose, and taking a proactive, practical approach will help you focus on what’s important to you, as well as any changes that you want to bring to your life.

Journaling Tips

I normally journal every single day, as I really do see the benefits from writing so frequently. I’d naturally encourage you to do the same, but don’t worry if this is unrealistic. Focus on setting a journaling goal that is realistic for you. Don’t feel bad if you miss a day (or three)- just pick it back up again when you can and carry on.

If you find you’re experiencing a touch of writer’s block, it can be useful to use prompts to help you root out your thoughts. If your journal doesn’t have any prompts, try to keep a bank of prompts just in case- these can range from anything from weekly check ins to breathwork. Whatever is best for you.

Try not to self-censor when you do get stuck into your writing- let your thoughts be unashamedly raw. We spend so much of our lives vetting our thoughts and behaviour, so now’s your chance to let it all out! I found this fairly difficult at first, but with a little practice I became much more used to letting out my emotions. The release that journals provide is arguably better than letting emotions or negative feelings fester, and reduces the likelihood of panic, stress, or anger if our feelings rear their head unexpectedly.

Whichever form of journaling you decide on, use your journal as you see fit. You don’t need to justify how you use it and why- it’s an outlet for you, and you alone.

The best part about journaling? It is uniquely yours. Your journal is for you and you alone. Nobody else should read your journal; and I hope that this reminder makes it easier for you to be wholly open when writing your journal.

Final thoughts on Journaling

Journaling is something that all of us can do to provide stress relief and boost our Mental Wealth. It’s simple, accessible, and serves as the perfect means to safely express ourselves and reflect on our innermost feelings. Whether you’re looking to untangle your thoughts or work out a solution to a problem, it’s something that I really cannot recommend enough.

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