Wash away stress

Reduce Stress by Journaling

After my daughter was born I made a journal out of an old three-ring binder by filling the binder with colored paper. What I discovered from the quiet moments I spent writing in this journal was that getting my thoughts on paper helped bring clarity and reduced the stress caused by all the “what-if” concerns I had as a new mother.

Whether you’re a new mom or a veteran, journaling is a healthy and low-cost option you can undertake to bring perspective to your thoughts and concerns. Transferring your thoughts to paper allows you to look at your feelings from a distance—like moving a blurry page out to arm’s length so that the words become clearer and more concrete.

Studies show that the act of journaling calms the mind and body and gives you an opportunity for reflection. “There’s been a tremendous amount of research showing that if people occasionally set aside fifteen or twenty minutes a day for a total of three to four days, and write about the deepest thoughts and feelings about the issues going on in their lives, it has beneficial effects on people’s mental and physical health. This has been found to be particularly beneficial for people undergoing transitions in their lives. There are very few things that would qualify more than having your first child,” says Dr. James W. Pennebaker, professor at the University of Texas in Austin and author of Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval.

Journal writing can be cathartic because you’re not writing for anyone but yourself. In my writing classes, I teach students to think of journaling as an unfiltered brain dump. In other words, journaling is about letting the thoughts flow without judgment, self-criticism, or editing. What you write is private (unless you decide to blog), just for you, your pen, and your paper.

In the Mood for Journaling

Set aside a few uninterrupted minutes and find a comfortable spot. When the weather is mild, my favorite spot to journal is on the bench under a tree in my backyard. You might prefer to write while sitting at the kitchen table, while propped up on pillows on your couch, or while sipping a latte at your local coffee shop.

Whether you use pen and paper or the blogging option, just get started. It doesn’t matter whether you use an 89-cent composition book or an etched Italian leather journal. (Hint: Let your friends know you’re in the market for a nice journal. You just might receive one on your next birthday.) A three-ringed binder left over from your child’s school project will do. Or punch three holes down the side of that leftover scrapbooking paper in your craft cabinet and run ribbon or string through the holes. Use your favorite pen or pencil, or splurge on a new one just for journaling.

If you’re wondering how you’ll find the time to journal, remember that you don’t have to journal every day. I journal when I find the time. Having a set time to journal can be helpful. I prefer to write in the morning before the house awakes. Your best time might be at night once the kids are put to bed or during a lunch break at work.

Whether you journal every day or as the mood hits you, your journal can be a mother’s friend. Journaling can help you feel more hopeful while reducing the stress of keeping thoughts trapped in your head.

“People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.”

—Dr. James W. Pennebaker, Writing to Heal

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