relieving stress with journal
dr. Lisa

dr. Lisa

Relieving Stress with Journaling

I think we can all agree that 2020 was a year for the record books, and not in a good way. 2020 brought us challenges and hardships that we could not have imagined a mere ten months ago. In fact, it is hard to imagine a world now where masks are only worn in hospitals and operating rooms, where school children fill the classroom and play freely with one another on the playground, and where you can go to a wedding or a concert and not have to assume an element of risk. There is no guarantee that 2021 will be better, but as we flip the calendar from December to January, it is a good time to start putting the stress of 2020 behind us. 

The basis of Functional Medicine is to identify the source of chronic disease and address the source, rather than the symptoms of disease. Health can be achieved by altering our environment, lifestyle, nutrition, psycho-social experiences, and stress. In this series, we are going to discuss ways in which we can begin to reduce stress in our lives and replace it with positivity.

Stress induces negative thinking, and those negative thoughts have a way of getting trapped inside our heads. 2020 introduced us to a whole new group of ugly thoughts that have never been there before. These thoughts play on a constant loop, reminding us of all the bad things that have happened or could happen, all the things we have to do, and all the ways we have failed. These negative thoughts are akin to mental constipation. They are uncomfortable and unhealthy.

The act of writing these thoughts on paper clears them from your head and frees your brain to think about more productive issues. Journaling can be a data dump. If you are ruminating about all the things you need to do before the weekend, write those down in your journal so that your brain is no longer obligated to keep remembering them. Once your brain is off the hook, it can calm down. Now, you can relax. You can sleep. You can focus your brain power on other things.

Journaling can help organize ideas and discover patterns in your thinking and behavior that you might not be aware of. If you experienced trauma in the form of a bad relationship, a physical injury, or the loss of a loved one, you may be replaying that situation in your head like a video on repeat. Constantly remembering a bad event does nothing but make you feel bad. If you start writing about that event, you can start breaking it down and working through those feelings of grief, despair, embarrassment, hopelessness, and anger.

Start by simply writing down what happened. Then ask yourself questions like, What was happening in my life that created this situation? Why did I respond so strongly to this event? Does this event feel familiar or remind me of something that happened in my past? Could I have responded differently to the situation? Are there things I wished I had said or done? Are there lessons to be learned from this situation? As you accumulate journal entries, you may notice that the same things trigger negative thoughts in your brain, or you respond in the same negative way to certain events. Noticing these patterns allows you to stop the cycle of dysfunctional response and find more constructive ways to manage stress in your life. Journaling can also boost your mood (as well as your immunity and your biometrics).

In addition to journaling your To-Do list and your most traumatic moments, you may also choose to journal gratitude. When we focus on the positive in our writing, we begin noticing the positive in our lives. The more space we allow our brains for the positive thoughts, the less room we have for the negative ones. As this mental shift occurs, our stress levels begin to drop, we start sleeping better, and all those measurements of health (weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc.) respond in a positive direction. (For more on how stress and illness are related, read this article: Stress effects on the body (apa.org)).

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