A Beginner’s Guide to Journaling for Stress Relief

Journaling has become a well-known tool for supporting your mental and emotional health. It provides a private space for self-exploration and emotional release. The benefits of journaling include improved mood, creativity, and even immune functioning!

But by far one of the best benefits of a journaling practice is a reduction in stress and anxiety. If you’ve been feeling more stressed lately, you are far from alone. Stress reduction appears to be something we could all use these days. According to Gallup’s 2021 report on the state of global workplace, 57% of U.S. and Canadian workers report feeling stress daily. That means it’s important for us to take a holistic approach to managing our stress.

Journaling is a free and accessible tool that anyone can do. Generally, journaling involves a log of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. There are several strategies and techniques you can try to start journaling and reduce stress today.

Use a Journal that Works for You

While this step may seem a bit obvious, it’s a crucial one. You want your journal to be accessible and appealing to you so that you use it often. Do you want to have a designated notebook for your journaling practice? Or would you prefer to use a sheet of paper? Identifying what works best for you is part of the process. Remember: there is no “right” or “wrong” way to journal. The best journal is the one that resonates with you.

Remember Your Journal is Private

To make the most out of your journaling experience you need to ensure it is a private one. Maybe that means keeping your journal in a secure place. Or maybe that means remembering that you do not need to censor yourself during this practice. Do not worry about spelling, grammar, or doing it “right.” This journal is not a homework assignment that will be graded, it’s for your eyes only!

Set a Schedule – But Be Flexible.

One of the most effective ways to build a journaling habit is to put it on your schedule. Think about what your daily life already looks like, and identify a time to add in journaling. Do you have hectic mornings? Then journaling before bed may be a good fit. Are you looking for a way to unwind mid-day? Try journaling during your lunch break.

Identify a time that works for you and stick to it. But if life gets in the way (as it often does) then be compassionate with yourself. It’s okay to fall off your journaling practice because you can start back up again anytime. This practice should be in the service of your healing, not used to shame yourself.

Journaling daily, weekly, and even on an as-needed basis have their benefits.

What to Journal

Now that you have your tools and schedule ready to go – what do you write? The short answer is: whatever feels right! But oftentimes we need a bit more guidance when starring at a blank page. Here are suggested journaling approaches to help reduce stress:

  • Gratitude Journaling:
    A great way to combat stress and anxiety is by focusing on positive parts of our lives. Use your journaling practice to highlight the things that are going well no matter how small. Did you remember to call your grandparents? Have a successful meeting at work? Enjoy a morning walk? Write it all down and allow yourself to absorb the feelings of gratitude.
  • Brain Dumping:
    Brain dumping is a great technique to use when your mind is full of  worries. For this technique I recommend setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and writing for the entire time. Write whatever comes out. Write out all your worries, concerns and questions. Let your thoughts flow onto the page and do not censor yourself.
  • Inner Child Letters:
    Everyone has an inner child, you can think of it as a representation of your younger self. This includes your experiences, hopes and playfulness as a child. There is a lot to inner child work, but a great place to get started is writing letters. You can start by asking your inner child questions that may give you insights into your stress such as: What brings you joy? How can I support you? Where is your happy place?

Final Thoughts & Recommendations

Chronic stress can have serious consequences on your mental and physical health. Addressing the various causes and contributing factors should be a top priority. If you believe your stress is too challenging to manage alone, consider reaching out to a close friend, local support group or scheduling a consultation for therapy.

When it comes to your journaling practice remember to make it enjoyable. The more you enjoy this new mental health habit the more likely you are to keep it. Be consistent, be compassionate with yourself, and reap the benefits of journaling.