Destress by journalling

The simple act of jotting down your thoughts can help heal your mind and body

01 Mar 2021 / 11:42 H.

Given the uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s no wonder that many people are feeling increased levels of stress and anxiety, brought about by worries regarding the illness, isolation from family and friends, and even job loss or a disruption in income.

In the 2021 Budget tabled last year, the government announced it was allocating RM325.5 million out of the national health budget to address mental health issues. While there is no easy solution for those difficult feelings, there are steps you can take – even while stuck at home – to help relieve anxiety and improve your mental well-being.

One proven coping mechanism is journalling. There has been plenty of evidence to show that recording our thoughts and feelings on a regular basis can help us identify and process negative emotions, and ultimately alleviate anxiety.

There are many ways to journal, and few limitations on who can benefit. You can add a journalling habit to your life whether you journal daily, weekly, or on an as-needed basis when stress gets to be too intense. It’s also a good problem-solving tool; oftentimes, one can hash out a problem and come up with solutions more easily on paper.

Journalling about traumatic events helps one process them by fully exploring and releasing the emotions involved, and by engaging both hemispheres of the brain in the process, allowing the experience to become fully integrated within one’s mind.

How to start

You can use any medium to record your thoughts. You can choose from the most beautiful blank books you can find, or a more functional notebook, or even a Word file on your computer.

Pick a time of a day to write, whether you choose to do it daily, or on a less frequent schedule. Start by journalling for five to 15 minutes. Write about whatever is on your mind or is bothering you. Try to keep going until you feel you have written what needs to be said but haven’t delved into a mode of rumination.

Describe the events that are currently causing difficulties for you. Keep in mind that with anxiety, sometimes it isn’t what is currently happening that causes stress, but the concerns you have about what could happen.

As you write about what you are concerned about might happen, think critically, and try to argue with yourself. Write anything that calls into question whether or not your worry is truly a concern.

Journalling strategies to try

For those who want a more targeted form of expression, here are several practices you can try:

Gratitude journal: List three or more aspects of each day for which they are grateful. This is a highly effective strategy for relieving stress because it helps you to focus on the resources you have in your life already and create a more positive mood at the moment, both of which have been shown to build long-term resilience. If you’re feeling down in the future, you can cheer yourself up with a few pages of reminders for the things you have to appreciate in life.

Emotional release journal: You may also write about your emotional responses to events that have happened throughout the day as a way of coping with the stress. This is also a great way to expand on the positive and manage the negative things that happen in your life, increasing your positivity ratio, which is an important aspect of stress management.

Bullet journal: Some people simply keep journals to track what they need to do each day, goals they have, memories they create, and other things they don’t want to forget. Because writing things down can help keep your mind uncluttered and help you to remember what’s important to you, this can relieve stress as well.

If you truly cannot decide which method would work best for you, there are several pre-made journals you can buy to start with. Some of them include writing prompts. Others incorporate dates.

Once you have gotten comfortable with the idea of journalling, you may want to decorate your journal with stickers and washi tape, or even begin doodling in it. Your journal is a place to share your thoughts and be creative, so feel free to express yourself however you want.

Remember, you don’t need to be an accomplished writer or a literary genius to benefit from writing down your thoughts and feelings. Your journal is for you and you alone, and keeping this in mind can make you feel impossibly free to pour yourself onto the page. Give it a try.

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