How to start a journal to release stress
Grab a pen and paper (aka a journal) if you need a quick way to de-stress.
I’ve been journaling since I was a kid, and it is not only a proven method to decrease stress and anxiety, but it is one of my best ways to work through chaotic and complex emotions. I can feel my heart lighten as my pen fills the page.
My journal practice
I started writing down my thoughts, concerns, and musings in middle school. I didn’t realize it then, but my “Dear Diary” entries were a journaling practice. Because even as an 11-year-old, I wasn’t just writing what I did that day; I wrote about how I felt about what happened. I’d brainstorm various reactions and outcomes and figure out how I saw my future self.
In my adolescence, I, unfortunately, like too many teens, struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. Journaling was therapy for me when the darkness seemed too dense. I could write out of my dark thoughts to find a lighter place. A place I saw a future.
My frequency of journaling ebbed and flowed through college and adulthood, but I’d always return to it at any time of stress or emotional overwhelm to help release any built-up pressure.
Eventually, I realized journaling wasn’t only helpful in “big moments.” It was also beneficial in the “in-between” ones. So I created a practice of writing in a journal every day, even if it was just one cool thing I saw or heard that day.
I use both pen and paper or voice notes to journal. If an issue is highly emotional, I will make a voice note. If not, I type notes into my phone or in an app called Presently. I often journal inside the pages of a book I’m reading with my thoughts and feelings.
I usually journal…everywhere. Waiting in the car for a kid at school, after, or at the gym (where I do a lot of thinking). I write especially at bedtime to help me fall asleep more peacefully.
I journal every single day.
Gratitude journaling has been a helpful addition to my practice. The key for me is I write down what I’m grateful for that day (I can always find something, even if small!) and why I am thankful for it.
Writing down “the why” allows my heart to feel thankfulness more deeply. I can then truly see its positive impact on many areas of life.
For example, there was no traffic on the way to school pick-up. Indeed, that’s enough to be grateful for on its own. But when I write “the why,” I realize I’m thankful for it because it gave my son and me extra time to stop for ice cream on the way home, which led to him confiding important information I wouldn’t have known otherwise. See how the “why” makes a huge difference in feeling grateful?
Other ways I use my journal
Sometimes an inspirational poem or quote will strike me, and I write what it means in my life and the connections I can make to it.
During times of difficulty, uncertainty, or working out complex issues in relationships, work, and parenting (with four kids, there’s no shortage of “What the hell should I do” moments to work through), writing helps me have a deeper connection with myself, stabilizes my emotions, and reveals insights and solutions.
Similar to how working out physically provides an outlet for stress, writing also promotes release and resilience.
How journaling impacts your well-being and calm
A single journal entry can:
- Lead to learning about yourself or others. Understanding leads to compassion which leads to peace for yourself and others. Knowing yourself and others more deeply will help you respond more positively to issues that may arise.
- Lead to inspiration In other areas. For example, if you’re a songwriter, perhaps an idea in a journal could spark your next song. Maybe a new idea for work or a way to handle a seemingly unrelated issue will emerge unexpectedly.
- Help you problem solve. When you write through different angles you could use to approach a problem and its outcomes, the right path can emerge, making you feel more in control of your life.
- Bring down stress and anxiety. Processing through your fear and emotional overload can help you release it into the universe and bring to light any strategies you could employ to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
- Promote positivity. Writing what you’re grateful for helps you go from a mindset of scarcity to abundance and will aid you in seeing your world outside your journal as a more beautiful place to be.
- Aid accountability. Record your progress in your journal if you’re starting a new habit or trying to overcome fear. Even baby steps toward progress will get you to your goal, and writing about it daily keeps it top of mind. Seeing your progress will be motivation to keep going!
Starting your journaling practice
To get started with journaling, create small goals. Set aside even five minutes before bed if it’s helpful to get your thoughts out of your brain for sleeping or when you wake up as a cleanse for your brain to start the day. Or both!
Your journal should be uncensored. Even if you throw it away after you write or type into a hidden folder on your phone, journaling works best when your most profound thoughts have space to flow.
Whether it’s an artistic bullet journal or a steno pad, pick a journaling place that motivates you to want to pick it up every day and use it.
Write yourself out of chaos and into calm. It works!
**This article has been adapted from “How Journaling Can Help You To Be More Calm, Mindful And Resilient” in Authority magazine.
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