Whether we like it or not, stress is part of our daily lives. Preventing it completely can also be difficult especially since it may be beyond our control. The way we experience it can be very unique compared to other people, which makes it challenging to describe in detail. In fact, Hans Selye—the father of stress research himself, who coined the very word in 1936—struggled to describe what stress is in the beginning mainly because it can manifest differently for all of us. However, one study pointed out something specific that can be relatable to most people: “even our thoughts can cause us stress and make the human body more susceptible to illness.”
Now if this is true, here’s some good news: there’s a positive flip side that we can take advantage of. If our own thoughts can be the reason for our stress, then we can utilize the same to reduce and alleviate it—and all with the help of journaling! According to Selye, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” With that in mind, we react by being proactive about how we handle our stressors: in this week’s article, we highlight three ways keeping a journal can help with stress management.
1. Take advantage of positive stress
According to the American Institute of Stress, “stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon.” This makes it hard to define. Though everyone can’t agree on what it is exactly, we do know that it’s our physical, mental, and emotional reaction to change. Notice that it doesn’t say it’s supposed to be a negative change; it doesn’t have to be! There’s such a thing as positive stress caused by equally positive changes, also known as eustress.
But how does this relate to journaling and managing stress? The distinction helps. In one of our previous blog posts, we talked about how negative rumination can be dangerous to mental health.
Medical News Today gives a perfect example: a depressed individual who "persistently think(s) negative, self-defeating thoughts” would be stuck in a helpless loop if all they ruminated about were negative thoughts. In the same vein, ruminating only about happy, positive things is unrealistic and wouldn’t allow us to process and understand our thoughts and feelings. We must find a balance—though there is negative stress, distress, there is also a positive equivalent, eustress.
When journaling, it’s vital to be mindful of both the upsides and downsides of what we experience. Let’s take a workplace example: getting more responsibility at work will no doubt be a challenge and may result in distress. Writing all about it in your journal—your frustrations, worries, and doubts—can help you make sense of what you’re feeling and will allow you to move forward. It also presents an opportunity for eustress: perhaps this added responsibility will allow you to learn new skills while utilizing existing ones that play to your strengths.
In Selye’s own words, “it’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” At the end of the day, it’s a matter of taking charge where we can. Positive or negative, stress in either form is part of life: it’s true we have less control over negative experiences, but there is always an option to add more eustress in our lives.
2. Zoom out for the bigger picture
When people are stressed out, they tend to feel overwhelmed. Problems seem too big and insurmountable, but more often than not, this is only so because we’re looking at them from a limited perspective. This is where journaling comes in handy: more than getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper, it gives you the avenue needed to look at whatever is causing you stress from a different angle, which can help with finding solutions.
This also applies to stressful events and traumatic experiences. According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, 122 students were randomly assigned to one of the following writing conditions: one group focused only on emotions related to a stressor or trauma while the second on cognitions and emotions associated with it, while the third was asked to write factually about media events. Unsurprisingly, it was the second group focused on cognitions and emotions that “developed greater awareness of the positive benefits of the stressful event than the other two groups.” Making sense of the experience itself, which required looking at it from a bird’s eye view, prevented participants from focusing only on the negative emotions associated with it.
Need your journal in one place alongside your planner, to-do lists, and trackers? Then you’ll need the Field Journal! It can hold six of our refills at a time, which means you have enough space for all your writing needs—and more! It can also fit a Kindle or iPad Mini.
Field Journal Refill
3. A means to improve health and well being
Research confirms that stress has a huge impact on health and well being. There’s even one study from 1982 to 1992 found that immunity of medical students went down as a result of the stress caused by their yearly three-day exam. It only goes to show that whether it’s a few days, months, and even years, chronic or long-term stress can negatively affect the immune system.
Thankfully, stress management by means of journaling offers a myriad of benefits that can help improve health and well being. The Center for Journal Therapy says that journaling “is the act of writing down thoughts and feelings to sort through problems and come to deeper understandings of oneself or the issues in one’s life.”
There’s relief in the clarity and focus provided by writing one’s experiences down and understanding them. The reduction in stress alone already offers an advantage by allowing immunity to go back to normal, which according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, assists with better sleep, mood, weight management and the ability to feel better faster when sick.
We’ve also posted a previous article here on how journaling positively impacts mental health and even makes you happier.
There are a lot of ways to manage stress. Journaling is, without a doubt, one more that offers many other health-related benefits. If you’re just about to start keeping a journal or have fallen out of the practice, these are three amazing reasons to get started—or restart the process.
How else has journaling helped you manage stress? What other benefits have you seen first hand? Share it in the comments below!