How Journaling Can Reduce Stress

By Gail Doerr

Stress surrounds us and can be a chronic state for some. When unmanaged, long-term stress can make us susceptible to anxiety or even depression. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing stress, one tactic that has proven helpful for many people is journaling—writing about thoughts, concerns and feelings. Not only can it ease symptoms of stress, but it can help to prioritize and sort through exactly what’s bothering you.

In fact, in her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg frequently refers to how journaling helped her sort through and cope with her grief after the sudden loss of her husband. It can be a useful tool for both good and bad times for all of us. As we become more comfortable and adept at expressing ourselves in writing, we become increasingly self-reflective and aware.

We know journaling works, but how can you make it work for you?

Use journaling to track patterns in your mood.

After you’ve been journaling for a while, you may be able to identify and track patterns in your mood, which might help manage anxiety or depression. Look for specific triggers like a visit from someone or certain meetings at work. Look for patterns in your mood based on certain times of day or days of the week or even seasons. For some of us, certain foods or too much caffeine can have an impact on our mood.

Journal to remember what you’re grateful for.

Gratitude journals have become popular for good reason. While depression can make it harder to see what is going well in your life and make your struggles seem overwhelming, cultivating a gratitude practice can help you see the picture of your life from a more balanced perspective, which may help ease your symptoms. There is even evidence that it is physiologically impossible to be grateful and stressed at the same time.

When you need more than journaling.

Journaling should not be used in place of asking for help when you truly need it. While it can be a useful way to vent, identify patterns and appreciate the good things in your life, it cannot replace meaningful relationships or the care of a qualified health professional. Keep writing—but use it as only one of many resources in your self-care toolkit.