How to Use Journaling to Check in and Give Your Mind a Break

By Jessica Hamlin

Whatever stress looks like in your life, chances are, you got some.

And just like stress can look different for each person, we can also have different ways to deal with it. Luckily there are experts out there who can give us different tools to help identify and manage our stress and hopefully learn and grow as we do it.

In the first part of our series “The No Bullsh*t Guide to Finding Your Chill,” (from our event of the same name) we are talking about stress triggers and journaling.

Janie McGlasson, LMFT talks to us about stress triggers and using journaling as a helpful tool. McGlasson is a therapist who specializes in working with anxious or depressed teens or young adults, adults seeking direction in their life and couples struggling with communication or intimacy issues.

WHAT IS YOUR STRESS TRIGGER?

Before we address our stress, let's figure out where it comes from.

There are four main areas of stress triggers, McGlasson says.

Once you identify your main stress trigger, you can then better take steps to address the stress you’re feeling by meeting with a therapist, talking with a friend or taking another action. You may relate to a little of each trigger or a couple, but think of what applies to you most of the time.

Relational Stress

At its core, relational stress is about relationships, even if what you’re stressing about doesn’t seem to be about relationships. For example, if you’re stressing about finances, it’s because of an underlying relational worry or stress like, “If I’m not making enough money is my significant other going to have to make up for that? Am I going to stress my family out?” If this is you, maybe you need to call a friend and check in with how you’re doing or talk with the person you’re stressing about.

Performance

This stress comes from the desire to perform, be the best and use your time in the best way. You may often feel stressed because you feel like you’re not hitting the goals you should be hitting. Part of dealing with that stress, McGlasson says, is knowing you are going to regularly feel like you’re not performing to the extent you should be. Try adjusting your goals or adjusting your sense of self-worth, she says. Self-worth is a whole other topic altogether, so if you’re struggling with this it may be good to speak with a therapist and get to the root of why you feel like you’re not good enough or doing enough.

Control

This is stress that comes from the need and desire to feel in control. If you feel out of control, you are going to feel overwhelmed. McGlasson often sees this in first-born children. If this is you, what can you do or who can you speak with to help?

Structure or Chaos

Another stress trigger is either too much structure or too much chaos.

Living in a fast-paced world means there’s often a lot of things we don’t have control over or there’s sometimes a lack of structure in our lives.

Some people have a need for structure and do their best when things are structured. If this is you, maybe this means it would be good for you to create structure by waking up at the same time each day or creating some sort of routine.

On the flip side, a more “go with the flow” person would not enjoy a lot of structure and it would actually stress them out. They need more fluidity. If this is you, what needs to give in your life so you can feel less stressed?

HOW + WHY TO JOURNAL

Now that we’ve talked stress triggers, let’s talk about how journaling can help with stress.

Journaling is a good way to process and stay in touch with yourself, McGlasson says.

There’s not a wrong way to journal; just different ways to journal. So don’t get stuck on thinking it needs to be or look a certain way.

How each person journals can depend on their personality, stress triggers and needs.

It can be helpful to have a set journaling time at the beginning or end of the day, but start where you can. Having a time where you pause the noise and fast pace of life works. Journaling can help you focus on listening to yourself and getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper that can be very beneficial.

Start With a Check-In

Before you journal, check in with yourself. Ask yourself: Are you feeling stress? If so, where are you feeling it? What are you feeling today? How does your body feel?

Are You Structured or Unstructured?

Some people like structured journaling and some like unstructured. You may feel best doing one type most of the time or may be structured or unstructured depending on how you feel that day and what’s going in your life.

Structured Journaling

This can be good for people who especially love to-do lists.

A good starting point is asking yourself: What do I want to accomplish today?

You can write a list or in full sentences, whatever is easiest and feels best for you.

Unstructured Journaling

This is narrative, stream of consciousness journaling where you just let your thoughts go where they go and write them out as they come.

This can be very helpful along with that personal check-in, McGlasson says. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and not really sure why, writing a stream of consciousness onto paper can help. Afterward you can read what you wrote and see if there was a certain topic you wrote about most. Maybe you notice you wrote about a work project that’s stressing you out, so you can figure out how to create more structure in your life so you handle that project better. Or maybe you wrote about your significant other a lot so maybe you need to set up an appointment with your therapist or a phone date with a friend to talk about it.

Personally, I find sometimes it’s good for me stream of consciousness journal first to get all the “noise” out of my head. Then I can read back what I wrote, get a feel for what I need to do and prioritize in my life and can make a to-do list from there.

But remember, there’s no wrong way to journal. Just get paper and a writing utensil and get started!


The Feel Good Series is a series of community workshops presented by Savoir Collab and Do The Good Stuff offering IRL toolkits for owning how you feel and redefining what it means to take care. In our first workshop, The No Bullsh*t Guide to Finding Your Chill, we’re challenging the “stressed out” story with help from the experts and walking away with real solutions for managing stress and feeling good. We’re stressed, we get it. Now what?