Journaling to reduce stress

Journaling can be a great stress reducer through organizing one’s thoughts, clearing one’s mind and facilitating problem solving.

There are many benefits to keeping a journal. Some people track their food intake in an effort to lose weight, others to combat depressive symptoms, some people journal to keep a historical account or record of their lives for themselves, or to share with others. In addition to journaling for these reasons, journaling can be a great stress reducer through organizing one’s thoughts, clearing one’s mind and facilitating problem solving. Michigan State University Extension recommends it to those who are experiencing high amounts of stress in their lives.

Here are a few ways that keeping track of our thoughts, feelings and experiences can reduce stress and lead to a more balanced life:

  1. Journaling serves as an escape or emotional release and forces you to check out on everything else and focus on you. It’s one of the best ways to clear your mind and get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. It forces you to focus on internal awareness of the present and process thoughts and emotions in the here-and-now. By gaining this focus, one might be better able to obtain clarity around what is most important to them and reduce their stress.
  2. Journaling can reduce stress by helping one get rid of negative thoughts. A study published in a 2011 Psychological Science journal noted that writing down your thoughts and then physically throwing away the paper that you wrote them on can be an effective way of clearing your mind. The study was conducted on high school students in Spain with negative body image. The study found that when the teens wrote down their negative body image thoughts and then physically threw them away, the thoughts did not later impact them. Thoughts can be regenerated, but in the short-term, the symbolic act of throwing them away does help with clearing negative thoughts from your mind, which will help you feel better and problem solve more effectively.
  3. Journaling has been shown to improve physical health. A study published in 2006 in the journal of the American Medical Association found that patients struggling with a chronic illness, who wrote down their thoughts about stressful situations, actually experienced fewer physical symptoms than patients who did not journal. The researchers followed 112 patients with asthma and arthritis and asked them to write in a journal for 20 minutes, three days in a row about either an emotionally stressful situation or about their daily plans. The group who was asked to journal about an emotionally stressful situation, showed a 50 percent improvement in their disease after four months. One of the best ways to reduce stress is to improve physical health, and journaling has been shown to reap this benefit.
  4. Journaling helps with problem solving. One of the best ways to set goals is to write them down on paper along with your hopes, plans and ideas. Writing down your problems and being able to reflect on them can inspire you to think and write about possible solutions.

There are no rules when it comes to starting or maintaining a journal. It’s important to find a routine that works for you, whether it’s once a day, once a week or once a month. Journaling is most effective when done consistently. To learn more about stress reduction strategies, please visit www.msue.msu.edu.

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