PREVENTING STRESS AND CONTROLLING EMOTIONS THROUGH JOURNALING
How journaling and reflective writing helps prevent stress, increase our emotional awareness and stop us from behaving in a way we will later regret.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” — Brene Brown
We are beautiful creatures who feel stressed out and go through an array of strong emotions on a daily basis. Stressful situations happen and we feel what we feel. Most of us have found ways to cope with stress while others have found ways to prevent stress from arising altogether.
According to this APA research, 43% of Americans suffer from insomnia due to stress, 75% experience at least one symptom of stress a month: 40% feel overwhelm, 45% irritability or anger, and 37% feel fatigued. And since 2016 a new source of stress has entered the American consciousness and it is affecting 63% of Americans: the future of our nation. We are one stressed out nation!
For some of us, the best way to release our stress is by walking or exercising, listening to music, praying, meditating, practicing yoga, etc. These strategies are very important and work really well but they are an antidote to stress. Prevention, however, is always the best remedy. Awareness of when our strong emotions are getting ready for action and controlling them before they take over is a better strategy. It will prevent us from getting stressed out and getting into a messy tangled situation.
Journaling is a strategy I use regularly for myself and with my clients. Writing down our feelings helps us unleash our emotions without judgment or fear. Our journal is a safe place to vent, blurt out and brag as well as exercise patience and self-love.
The more we write, the more we unload from our brain. We become more aware and attuned to our feelings. We identify our reactions when we feel a certain way. We start seeing patterns: a trigger to a feeling to a reaction. This is so important in conflict management because when we realize we are being triggered and our body starts to manifest the strong emotions, we can rationally and intentionally stop the emotional hijack and control ourselves by using centering questions, for instance.
Daily journaling will create the habit of acknowledging your emotions, identifying your triggers and preventing overreaction. If possible, journal at the same time every day. When building a new habit sticking to a schedule helps you achieve the best results. While you journal, steep yourself in the feelings that come up. Sit with them. Don’t run away from them, don’t control them. They are your feelings, honor them. They are real to you and legitimate. But they are NOT YOU. Let them stir inside you. Let them manifest as you write. And when you are done writing you can let them go.
Here are some ideas to help you start journaling today
I suggest you start with one idea and then add another practice after 3 weeks or so. When creating new habits consistency is important. But it is also important to identify our patterns before moving on to the next practice. Journaling starts out as an exercise to my clients but it quickly becomes a routine they enjoy and appreciate.
No prompts journal
Whether you choose a notebook or you prefer to type on your computer, your journal should be a place where nobody is concerned about grammar, syntax, typos, tone of voice, word choice or consequences. This is your safe place. You dump all your thoughts and feelings into it. There is no right or wrong, no overthinking, start with a word and let it rip. Describe what happened, who was involved, what did you feel; the whys, whens, hows, etc. When you are done, be kind, gentle and grateful to yourself for taking the time to acknowledge your humanity. There is power in vulnerability.
Emotional journal with prompts
For a month I have my clients journal their emotions in a shared google spreadsheet: emotion – trigger or event – physical manifestation notes/comments.
Emotion – name the feeling or emotion.
Trigger – Event or person that caused that feeling to arise.
Physical manifestation – where and how that feeling manifests in the body (racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, a knot in the stomach, etc.).
Notes/Comments – anything extra they would like to add – usually they offer me a little more context.
This exercise is so powerful! Within a week you start seeing emotional and behavioral patterns. It makes you more aware of your triggers, your feelings, and how to identify when feelings are arising by their physical manifestation. With this knowledge, you can control how to respond to your emotions and prevent them from letting you behave in a way you will later regret. How emotionally intelligent of you!
I’ve created a gratitude journal template and for a month my clients journal with the following prompts:
* 3 things you are grateful for today
* Write about a positive experience you had today
* Send a thank you note to someone who made you happy today/you are grateful for today
Reminding ourselves what we are grateful for every day will prime our brain to always look at the positive first, even when the conditions are less than desirable. Developing a positive outlook helps you find better, more thoughtful and more effective solutions to problems we encounter.
[Get your FREE “The Gratitude Journal” template here.]
The more you journal, the easier it gets, and the stronger your filter between your emotions and actions, which is the essence of emotional intelligence and conflict competence. Emotions are a natural human process that we’ve learned to downplay, ignore, or judge. You were born with the skills necessary to practice effectively. Get out of your own way and let it happen.
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