How Journaling Can Help to Reduce Stress and Anxiety
When we were teenagers, many of us who didn’t grow up in the digital age, had diaries that we poured our hearts into. As children, we even had homework assignments that focused on writing down our thoughts. The act of journaling comes with many healing benefits and, as adults, although it might feel foreign initially to pick up a pen and jot down your thoughts, it can be extremely therapeutic.
Journaling comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s a way to note down ideas or keep track of thoughts. Other times it’s in “dear-diary” format: a way to record, reflect and process experiences. It can also be a way to help set goals or intentions for the future. But one of the main benefits is how it helps to relieve stress.
Journaling for Stress Release
Remember when we were told to write lists of “pros and cons” when facing a big decision? Journaling can work in much the same way and give us a sense of clarity.
The act of writing down your feelings and thoughts can help you to release your frustrations, pains, anxieties and stressors. It often brings a sense of release once you’ve worked through what may be stressing you out.
When you ask yourself how likely a “worst-case scenario” is, you gain a more realistic perspective on life. Getting your thoughts down on paper helps you identify stress-inducing thoughts and beliefs that can be distortions of reality – which is hard to do when you’re in an anxious state. A good example is using overgeneralised words like “always” or “never” to describe your experiences. Start taking note of the language you use and add to situations and experiences, as this will help you discover your mindset, and serve as a starting point for overcoming those feelings.
A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research conducted on chronically ill patients found that those who journaled regularly experienced fewer physical symptoms than those who did not. Thus the act of journaling can help you to feel physically better too! With prolonged stress hampering your immune system, journaling for boosting immunity from today is a way to begin accessing its benefits fast.
For more information on how journaling may help the immune system, click here.
Practical Tips For Journaling
So, how do you start journaling? These tips should help get you started.
- If you don’t know what to start writing about, start with gratitude journaling. Begin by listing what you’re grateful for in the present moment. The act of practising gratitude alone helps to alleviate stress.
- Establish a writing time that works for you. Some people like to journal as soon as they wake up, before starting their day. Others prefer to journal at night before they sleep. Carry a notebook with you and find a time of day that works naturally for you.
(There is no pressure to write every day.)
- Write for your eyes only. You can throw the pages away afterwards! This takes the pressure off.
- Try using a pen and paper. Give yourself a break from technology, which can be distracting. (Oh, look, a WhatsApp message!) Try to be fully present when you journal.
- Try different types of writing to find out what works for you. Begin by writing about yourself (who you are, what your dreams/goals are etc.) Thereafter, try a stream of consciousness – just free-flowing thought without attaching any judgement or analysis. If there is something you’re struggling with, try to write about it in the third person.
Prolonged anxiety can lead to depression and feelings of hopelessness. If you’re feeling overwhelmed to the point where your daily life is being affected, your behaviours are changing and you’re starting to feel depressed, reach out. Speak to your doctor, ask for a recommendation to see a psychologist or call the SADAG helpline: 011 234 4837.
If you need to find a doctor, click here for a list of doctors on the Medshield Network.