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Feeling Stressed? How a Stress Diary Might Help

Today sees the start of International Stress Awareness Week, an opportunity for everyone to get a better understanding of stress, how it manifests itself, what causes it and most importantly how to reduce it.

So, what is Stress?

Stress is a reaction which occurs in the body when it comes up against either a feeling or a situation that it is not comfortable with. This reaction can involve a tensing of muscles and a quickening of the heart amongst other things.

Stress in the short term can be a healthy emotion. It can help you get things done quicker, it can give you extra energy to finish a job before a deadline and it can give you strength when things get difficult. It can focus your energy during times that are particularly challenging and make you perform at a higher level than usual.

The problem is when the stress continues for a prolonged period of time. The same thing that was giving you the extra energy can sap you and leave you feeling helpless. This can be caused by a sudden negative event or by the building of pressure over a longer period of time. This can affect your sleeping patterns, your eating habits, your energy levels and your relationships with others.

Do you recognise yourself in the description of the effects of long-term stress? If so a Stress Diary can be a valuable tool in learning how to cope with it. A stress diary monitors your stress levels and helps you identify what are the causes of your stress and as importantly how you are dealing with them. Every person is different and we all have our own individual responses to stress. So no two diaries will look the same.

Why keep a stress diary?

By keeping keeping a record and monitoring your stress you enhance your understanding of your own particular stressors in at least four important ways:

  • you identify your main causes of stress
  • you identify your symptoms of stress, and
  • you identify how you currently react to stress
  • you understand yourself better which allows you to develop your own stress management tools

So how does it work?

Every time you suffer any stressful incident, make an entry in your diary and record the following information:

  • The date and time.
  • What caused you to feel stressed?
  • How you feel, both in terms of physical symptoms as well as the emotions that you felt at the time.
  • How did you react to the stressful event?
  • How well did you cope with the event, did your reaction help you feel better or did it make things worse?
  • On reflection was there anything that you could have done different?

Viewed over a time the diary will allow you to form a picture of what causes you to feel stress and how you react to it.

So it is then time to analyse the results. First, look at the different stresses you experienced during the time you kept your diary. Highlight the most frequent stresses, and also the ones that caused you to have the most extreme reactions.

Next, look at your assessments of their underlying causes, and your appraisal of how well you handled the stress. Do these highlight problems that need to be fixed? If so, list these areas.

Next, look through your diary at the situations that cause you stress. List ways in which you can change these situations for the better.

Finally, look at how you felt when you were under pressure, and explore how it affected you, is there a pattern of symptoms? Do you have coping methods to manage them? If so, make a list of them.

Having analysed your diary, you should fully understand what the most important and frequent sources of stress are in your life. You should also know the sort of situations that cause you stress, so that you can prepare for them and manage them well.