image by eamoncurry
The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances.
– Andrew Bernstein
My ten year old niece had to get a MRI done because she was stressed, and kept falling ill as a result. She is 10. A child, who should not even know what stress is. She is not the only one. There are plenty of children, particularly high achievers, suffering from stress. Stress is also quite possibly one of the things that most adults suffer from, particularly in the developed world.
Pace of life is fast. You work long hours, and then you have the familial responsibilities. In-between all of that, you are trying to squeeze in some time for personal development, or training for a future career, or whatever. No wonder you are stressed. If you think about the kind of routine people used to follow in the olden days – light = work, dark = sleep (damn you, electricity!!) think about how much more work you are squeezing in, in the same 24 hours you have.
Most people are always working. If they are not working, they are still glued to the computer, checking out social media or watching TV. So even if they are not doing anything productive, or making money, their brain is still getting constant input of information. I am guilty of this. I’m very poor at not working. I am trying to get out of feeling guilty about not doing anything. At the very least, I read for pleasure. But even that is inputting information.
This constant activity leaves no time for relaxing. Your brain gets no time to just be. That, and your imagined fears about all the disasters may occur if you don’t get everything done, leads to stress.
As Bernstein said in the quote above, it’s not what is happening in your life that causes stress, but it’s how you think about it. It’s not easy to change our mindset. It’s not easy to just let go of the fears. That’s something you can continue to work on. But meanwhile, you can get started by managing your stress. I wrote about dealing with stress here before, but it’s worth re-visiting this important issue.
5 Ways to Use Journaling for Stress Management
1. Set aside regular time. Daily.
If you want to manage your stress, then you need to make it a priority. You can’t just deal with it whenever it’s convenient. That means setting aside time, daily. Give yourself at least 10 minutes to work with. Ensure these are 10 uninterrupted minutes. That means no people, no phone, no internet, nothing. Just you and your journal. If possible, do it right at the end of your day, before you go to bed, so that you can unwind and de-stress, just before going off to the slumber land.
2. Create a pleasant atmosphere
You don’t need to have your personal boudoir, but make your surroundings as pleasant as possible. Whether you are de-stressing at your desk, in your living room, or in your bedroom, eliminate all annoyance and interference. No TV. If music works for you, have something soothing in the background, low and mellow. Light a candle, or surround the area with a couple of living plants, or a bunch of flowers. Have your favourite photos or posters.
Make this space your personal Zen garden, literally or metaphorically.
3. Focus on feelings and emotions
You feel stressed when you feel fear. It’s not necessarily scary fear, but fear of failure, of fear of letting someone down, fear of underachieving etc. It’s a fear of consequences that you may have to face if you don’t finish or achieve something. It may be fear of losing loved ones, or ending up alone.
Whatever your fear is, it is related to your emotions. Therefore, when you journal for stress-management, focus on your feelings and emotions. Write about how you feel. Be completely honest with yourself. Let it out of your system. Express your emotions.
4. Don’t re-read your entries.
Don’t re-read your entries immediately after, or even days after you have written them down. These are some of your most negative thoughts. These are the things that stress you out. You don’t need to wallow in it. Use journaling for stress-management as a form of detox.
If you want to analyse them, you can re-read your entries, but leave them alone for at least a year, if not more. Your brain needs distance from your current stresses, before it can objectively analyse those entries.
5. Keep your journal private
This is an essential thing when it comes to journaling for stress management. You need to be able to write without censoring yourself, without the fear of someone else reading it. Keep your journal private. If you live in a setting where other people may come across your journal, then don’t tell them you are keeping one. Write in it where you are alone, and if you get no chance of that at home, go write in a café or a public library.
Protect your privacy.