Stressed Out? Put Your Stress into Words
The beneficial impact of writing and storytelling on stress
Posted Nov 19, 2012
USA Today recently reported that many employees who have experienced prolonged stress from job uncertainties, stagnant pay, and having to do more with less at work are actually burning out. A study out this past summer on job satisfaction from the Conference Board revealed that 63% of workers say they have high levels of stress at work, with extreme fatigue and feeling out of control. In addition, 46% of the respondents cited stress and personal relationship issues as the most common reason for absences.
If you’re one of the many millions of people who are in need of a break, putting your stress into words has some great benefits. Here’s what you can do:
Encourage storytelling at work and at home. A recent movement, called organizational storytelling, is springing up in many companies. The goal is to make companies more aware of the stories that exist within their four walls and then leverage those stories to achieve organizational goals. As I discovered above, it feels good to talk about overcoming a challenge or doing something hard, and companies want to capture that too. Daniel Pink states, “[There] is a hunger for what stories can provide – context enriched by emotion, a deeper understanding of how we fit in and why that matters.” Stories create positive emotion, goodwill, and strong social connection, and each one of those things not only builds your resilience, but also helps you de-stress.
Journal. The power of the written word in helping people de-stress is profound. Studies by Drs. Laura King and James Pennebaker have found that whether someone is writing about a stressful life event or their hopes for the future, journaling helps to regulate your mood by providing a safe emotional outlet, gives you perspective, and creates hope. Writing is something I cannot live without, especially as it relates to putting my stress into perspective.
Here are three specific journaling activities you can try:
Write about what went well. One of my Facebook followers recently told me how much this exercise helps her generate positive emotion, particularly when she feels stressed. Each day for several weeks, write down three things that went well for you that day along with a sentence explaining why that good thing is important. The negativity bias means that human beings are programmed to focus on and remember negative events and information, and this exercise will help balance that by causing you to also look at what went well. For folks that made this a regular practice, research showed that happiness increased and symptoms of depression decreased for an extended period of time.
Do a brain dump. This exercise helps people whose stress type causes them to be anxious and have a racing mind. I keep a small notebook next to my bed, and if stress prevents me from falling asleep, I simply write it all down and get it out of my head. The act of taking something from your brain and writing it down diffuses the intensity of the issue, at least long enough to allow you to get back to the task at hand.
Write your thinking blueprint. Your thoughts play a large role in your stress response. Drs. Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck developed a model to illustrate that the way people think affects how they feel and how they react. During the week, keep track of those events that push your buttons. Write down the heat of the moment thoughts you had and your reaction (both how you felt and what you did). At the end of the week, check whether you found any patterns. For example, did you put on your “angry glasses” at work, and did that undercut your performance? If you don’t like your emotions or reactions, replace your counterproductive thoughts with more productive thoughts, and you’ll see a commensurate shift in your emotions and reactions.
Storytelling and journaling are powerful tools to help you de-stress. Managing chronic long-term stress will help you not only succeed, but also thrive, allowing you to both live and work at a sustainable pace.
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a recovering lawyer, a writer, and stress and resilience expert for high-achieving professionals who want to prevent burnout and build habits for more happiness, health, and stress resilience.
Paula is available for keynote presentations, workshops, media commentary, and private life coaching. Contact Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.marieelizabethcompany.com for more information.
HEALTHbeat (2011, October 11). Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma. Harvard Medical School. Retrieved October 26, 2012, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/writing-about-emotions-may-ease....
Jayson, S. (2012, October 23). Burnout up among employees. USA Today. Retrieved October 23, 2012, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/23/stress-burnout-empl...
Pink, D.H. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York: Riverhead Books.
Reivich, K., & Shatte, A. (2002). The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength & overcoming life’s hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.
Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.