3 Easy Journaling Exercises to Reduce Stress

Researchers in recent years have found that journal keeping can actually benefit our health and wellbeing. Various studies have shown that it helps us relieve stress, set and achieve goals, enhance memory, improve relationships and communication with others, and more. There is even evidence of some direct health benefits. Through research done at the University of Austin, psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker found that writing regularly boosted immune function in study participants.

When it comes to starting a journal, it’s important not to judge yourself. A journal is simply a tool you can use to record what’s happening to and around you, to release your thoughts and feelings, to try out new ideas, and even to make promises to yourself. This is a safe space for you and you alone, so keep that in mind as you begin your journal-keeping practice.  I like to think of journaling as a “mind dump”…dumping everything out of your head and onto the paper.

Journal Prompt #1: Name Your Fears

Fear often stands in the way of us making a change in our lives. Too often those fears remain vague, but are a powerful force in our heads that we feel, but never take time to understand. This writing exercise aims to give those feelings a name.

Begin by simply creating a list in your journal of what you’re afraid of. When you think about making a change in your life, what fears start to bubble to the surface?

It’s important not to judge your thoughts, or yourself, as you write. Just name the fears that come to mind and then write them down. If a thought or two comes to you about each fear, like where the fear comes from or the last time you felt it, jot that down as well. When you’re finished, take a moment to reflect on whether naming your fears and writing them down took some of the power away from them.

Journal Prompt #2: Leave Your Stress on the Page

It’s important to be mindful of the stressors that could be sending you into fight or flight mode, which is a state of mind that makes change very difficult. In your journal, take some time to write about what is stressing you out. Write down everything you can think that has made you feel this way recently.

Next, ask yourself: What did I feel like when I was experiencing that particular stressor? Describe what you felt physically, mentally, and emotionally during each instance. This will help you be more mindful of what’s happening to you the next time your sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear. And perhaps make a choice to react differently to that stressor in the future.

Journal Prompt #3: Paint a Picture of Your Future

There’s an exercise I like to play with my students or people in my workshops who are on the brink of making a change. It’s called the Future Self Exercise, and it’s pretty simple. It entails sitting quietly for a moment, and then imagining your future self (10 or 20 years from now).  Once you’ve done that, imagine that your future self gives you a gift. What would it be?

In your journal, record what that gift might be. Describe it in as much detail as you can and why your future self might be giving it to you. Then you can take your writing a step further and imagine what your future self is like and what life is like for your future self. Ask yourself the following questions:

What does your future self look like and sound like?

If, in the future, your future self has the life you truly want, what does it look like? Where do you live? What do you do? Who surrounds you? What do you have then that you don’t have now?

How does the future you feel about your life? How does the future you feel about yourself? How does the future you feel about the past you, the person you are now? 

I would encourage you to try to write something every day, even if it’s just a line or two about what’s happened. Before you sit down to start writing, it can be a good idea to close your eyes and spend a minute or two just focusing on your breath, this will help to slow your thoughts down and put yourself in a writing frame of mind. Then set a time for five minutes or more and just let the thoughts fly. If you’re having trouble figuring out what to write, the journal prompts can get you started.

Even if you don’t have any trouble figuring out what to say, these journal prompts are a good way to start being mindful of what kind of changes you want to make in your life and what barriers might be standing in your way. So give them a try!

– Pam