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Creative Journaling for Stress Relief

Updated: Jan 3

Purple flowers on a journal. Creative journaling for stress relief.

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Sometimes, when I’ve had an especially stressful day, my mind just won’t slow down. It’s like there’s a hamster in there, running as fast as she can but getting nowhere.

Taking a nap doesn’t help (like I have time for naps?!), and if I try to fall asleep at night with all of the stress, anxiety, and scenes from my day replaying in my head, I’m sure to wake up at the most inconvenient time and stare at the ceiling until the sun comes up.

What I need is a brain dump … a way to clear all the busyness out of my head so I can relax. Journaling does exactly that.

I started journaling as a creative outlet when I was a child. (Yeah, I know—I was the nerdy girl who read books during recess.) I still have those journals, and looking back on them is really fun.

A page from a child's journal.

I’ve continued to journal off and on throughout my life. It’s what put me on the path to start blogging, so I could share some of my thoughts and ideas with you instead of keeping them tucked away on a dusty shelf.

And what I’ve discovered along the way is that journaling gets me into this creative, stress-relieving zone that gives me clarity of thought and reduces chronic stress.

Journaling for stress relief helps improve your well-being. It allows you to release negative emotions and take another look at your hopes, fears, and frustrations.

Studies show that using expressive writing to journal about a traumatic event can improve physical and mental health. Participants in a study about confronting past traumas had fewer physician appointments in the months following the study (Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986)).

Expressive writing comes from deep inside and ignores the formal rules of punctuation and grammar. Journaling in this way reduces stress, improves mental health, and reduces anxiety (no one is checking your work!).

Who doesn’t want to improve their mental health by letting go of stress in a fun and creative way?

Creative journaling in a bullet journal as a way to relieve stress.

Here are some tips, tricks, and journaling prompts to get you started on your stress-relieving journaling adventure today.

Journaling can …

  1. Help you let go of negative thoughts and anxiety

  2. Increase self-awareness as you explore your triggers and discover what makes you tick

  3. Allow you to review your struggles and successes, documenting them for future reference and giving you “I did it!” moments to look back on

  4. Shift your perspective by taking you out of the stressful moment and encouraging you to examine all points of view

  5. Provide some daily you-time for stress management

  6. Give you a sense of calmness as you clear your mind

  7. Reduce rumination—here’s the brain dump I mentioned earlier. When you get your thoughts down on paper, you can let go of worry and put stress on the back burner. If you truly need to think about it, you can always come back to it later.

  8. Increase optimism as you write down optional scenarios for a stressor you know is coming up (like taking an exam or going for a job interview)

  9. Promote creativity by giving you a chance to brainstorm. You can also doodle in your journal or decorate it; art is another great way to reduce stress!

  10. Learn from the past as you look back on prior journal entries

Tips and tricks for getting started

  1. Choose a quiet, comfortable environment to write in. You can be indoors in a comfy chair or outside on a porch swing—what matters is that you feel safe and can let your ideas flow.

  2. Find a journaling method that suits you. Does writing on paper or typing on a computer let you write more freely?

  3. If you’re choosing to write on paper, choose a journal with a cover that appeals to you. Having a beautiful journal to pick up and write in will give you something to look forward to each day.

  4. Set aside time to dedicate yourself to your writing. You don’t want journaling to become one more stressful situation, so make sure you can relax without feeling rushed.

  5. Use journaling as a self-exploration tool. Write down your feelings without judgment.

  6. Release those negative emotions! Observe how the feelings are affecting you, and write about that, too.

  7. Make journaling part of your daily routine. You can set aside 10–20 minutes per day, but even five minutes will get you started. If daily is too much, try setting aside time a few days each week. Consistency is the key to successfully benefitting your mental and physical health.

Journal prompts to get the creativity flowing

  1. What is one thing that caused me stress today, and how did I handle it? (Remember—no judgment!) What might I choose to do differently next time?

  2. What one thing did I do today for stress relief? What would I like to try next?

  3. What are some key words that express the way I’m feeling? Make a list.

  4. What affirmation can I create for myself today?

  5. What goal would I like to accomplish today or this week or month?

  6. What brings a smile to my face? Write a “happy list” of things that cheer you up.

  7. What are the things that I love about myself?

  8. What does my dog/cat/pet love about me?

  9. What compliment did I receive this week? What compliment would I like to give someone else?

  10. What stress management self-care routines can I do for myself? Write them down, and then pick one or more and commit to doing them. You deserve it!

  11. If all the thoughts buzzing around in my head were colors, what colors would they be? If I could replace those with colors that relieve stress, what colors would I choose?

Bonus: Need more journaling prompts? A guided journal might be just the thing to provide you with daily inspiration.

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