A great way to stop stress from getting the better of you and keep things in a more healthy perspective is to make and use a stress diary. This will help clear your head, and lift some of the weight off your shoulders. Here Exisle Empowerment author Dr Gail Ratcliffe explains how to do it:

To begin your stress diary start a fresh page in your notebook and rule it up into a date column and four main columns, with the following headings:

  • Date
  • What Happened
  • What I Thought
  • What I Felt Emotionally
  • What I Felt Physically

Take notes on thoughts that upset you. Where you can’t identify your thoughts, record the events that upset you. Don’t write a lot, just a word or a line. Write down how you felt emotionally about each of these and how your body felt at the same time. Write everything down as it happens.

It isn’t necessary to write down screeds of information. You can write a word or a phrase, as long as it’s sufficient to recall at the end of the week exactly what it was that made you record it. It is critical to make these notes as the stress occurs.

If you try to write them at the end of the day, you will have forgotten half of what stressed you. This is because some of the things that upset you will be very fleeting: brief thoughts that flit in and out of your mind.

Nonetheless, when you come to manage your stress, they need to be dealt with on the spot, otherwise they set off the stress reaction. If they are not dealt with, they will continue to build up. Keep your diary on you and a pen to record things as they happen.

Remember that it is important to record this information for at least a week before you try any of the techniques listed in later chapters to manage your stress. When you’ve done this for a week or two, you’ll become expert at identifying what stresses you and how it affects you. Then you are in a strong position to work out the best way to approach your troubles.

You will then move to analyse the diary in the following steps:

  • Once you have a week or two of records, sit down with your stress diary and check out the physical feelings you experience when you’re stressed and the emotions that accompany your stress. Make a list of them. Know that they are your warning signals. When they happen, you’re thinking about something that upsets you. Your thoughts are becoming negative and you’re on the merry-go-round.
  • Now analyse the specific causes of your stress. What makes you feel upset? Is there a pattern? Does it happen only at work, or does it happen at home and in social situations as well? Do you have many sources of stress or only one or two? Look at the problems that recur frequently. These are likely to be the most serious.
  • On another page of your stress diary make a separate list. If you’ve repeatedly made a note about someone you work with or about your boss, then write down ‘difficult relationship with workmate’ or ‘difficult relationship with boss’. If you find that you’re constantly thinking about something that happened in the past – for example, you bought a house last year and you feel that you paid too much for it – write that down as one topic as well. If you’re dwelling on some real or imagined inadequacy about yourself, add that to your list.

This will help you get a clear and simple idea of what may be causing the stress in your life, and help you begin to put these things into a healthier perspective. Putting this on paper helps disassociate yourself from the negative emotions, and gain the distance required to take targeted action to overcome these problems.

To learn more about how to reduce stress and be free of what has been holding you back,  check out Take Control Of Your Life by Dr Gail Ratcliffe; you'll discover how to create a comprehensive life plan that will help you solve the problems that can be fixed, and look at those that cannot be fixed in a different way so that they no longer need to have such an effect on your life. Learn more here.