Alleviating Stress Through Journaling
By Cate Russell-Cole
I doubt there is anyone over the age of twelve who doesn't know what stress is! Since the early eighties, stress management has been a hot topic, especially as high or constant levels of stress have been linked to life threatening illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Kids are stressed about problems at home and with their friends, and pressure to perform at school and sports. As for adults, there is so much to be stressed about, where do you even start?
In May 1999, an Australian Newspoll study of the major sources of stress for women listed the highest ranking worry as being financial pressure (56%). After that, the stressors were worrying about children's future (55%), finding time for yourself (51%), juggling family and work (46%), knowing what you want (39%), health (33%), the relationship with your partner (25%) and lastly, retirement (15%). I wouldn't list mine in that same order, however financial stress certainly does belong in first place! Many books have been written suggesting a whole host of remedies for stress, from exercise and meditation, to St. Johns Wort and deep breathing. All have benefits if you have the discipline to practice them regularly.
Another method which is cheap, portable and very easy is journaling. Journaling doesn't mean writing a diary of daily events, rather it is writing down your thoughts and feelings in a private notebook. This allows you to get it all out of your system, and to gain a new perspective on what has happened. I'm not disciplined enough to write every day, as some recommend, however I've found that writing out what I am thinking and feeling when I am stressed or upset, helps me a great deal.
University medical studies have discovered that people with long term illnesses that are a constant battle, such as asthma or arthritis, can improve their health if they journal out their stressful feelings. In one study, asthma patients experienced a 19% increase in lung function, over a period of four months. Getting it out of your system by writing freely seems to be an excellent tool for dealing with the annoying, and demanding situations we face every day. James Pennebaker from the University of Texas has said that writing about your emotions can not only prevent illness, but can also dissipate anger, ease depression and help you to solve problems. [To read an article on his work, please visit HYPERLINK "http://topten.org/content/tt.BF16.htm" http://topten.org/content/tt.BF16.htm ] New insights into yours or other's behaviour can come to you, or maybe ideas and dreams that you haven't thought about for a long time. If you are prepared to make the decision to stop fretting over an incident or hurt once you have put it on paper, journaling can be an effective tool in letting go of painful emotions, rather than letting them build up and harm you further. Journaling is a form of mental detoxification, and can be as good for you as a balanced diet and exercise!
So what do you write? Firstly, get yourself a practical or decorative notebook and pen which you will enjoy writing with. Make sure you have time, even if it is only ten minutes, and some space to write undisturbed and away from prying questions. A suitable hiding place for your journal is also a good idea. Don't make a big thing of guarding it or warning others away, just put it away where you know it won't be read. This is your emotional outlet, only to be shared if you choose, and choose carefully! They key is to just start writing. Forget grammar and punctuation, they are not relevant or necessary here. Just write about what has happened, how you feel, the person you are or would like to be. Write about your dreams and goals, your hopes and how you see the world. Don't throw out what you have written on "black" days either. You may want, or need to go back and read those entries later as encouragement that you can get through, or to look back on lessons you have learned or strengths that you have gained. Old entries can also help you to use those experiences in guiding you in making better decisions, or choosing an alternative course of action later.
Don't just keep a journal as a dumping place for your stresses or traumas though, or you will never want to pick it up and write in it. Use it for inspiration! Write down poetry, song lyrics that mean something to you. Include photos, memorabilia, record your achievements and the good things that happen also. You may want to also use your journal as a gratitude journal. Write down five things every day that you are grateful for. That will soon lift your spirits. Write down the joys of life, not just the heartaches, and even if you do have a bad day you want to put on paper, try and round it off with a positive point at the end. Journaling can not only improve your health, by using it this way, it can also improve your whole life perspective.
Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2007. Please contact Cate at firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to re-use her work.
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