Some stress is good.
An appropriate amount of stress helps you achieve peak performance. It gives you the extra boost you need to overcome laziness and focus on the task at hand.
Take a job interview, for example. If you don’t have any stress or anxiety, you might not prepare. You might prefer to “wing it” and hope that you get the desired outcome.
If you have a mild to moderate amount of stress or anxiety, though, you’re more likely to prepare. To practice answering some of the basic questions. And through this rehearsal, gain the confidence you need to convey your passion during the interview.
However, too much stress is bad. And can create several negative outcomes.
Think back to the job interview. If you have too much stress or anxiety, it can become debilitating. You may experience racing, unhelpful thoughts about your perceived weaknesses and insecurities.
You may have shortness of breath, muscle tightness, a sick stomach, and IBS. You may feel so overwhelmed that you have difficulty concentrating on your preparation. And all of these things lead to one thing: a poor outcome that doesn’t convey your true value.
Experiencing too much stress and anxiety, then, is a disservice to your goals and aspirations.
As a coach and licensed therapist, one area that I help clients improve is mood regulation, including teaching them how to decrease unhelpful stress and anxiety.
Stress and anxiety live in the body. And the more you know about what’s happening biologically, the more in control you’ll feel next time you’re experiencing symptoms.
Have you heard of the fight or flight response?
Chances are, you have. What you might not know is that the body has three main responses to this alert system: fight, flight, or freeze.
Some people move towards the lion. Others run away from the lion. But most people freeze when they see it.
In that moment, the smoke detector is beeping. The fire alarm is ringing. In the brain, the amygdala firing–sending the body into a heightened state of alarm.
The amygdala is part of the old reptilian brain. It’s most important purpose is to initiate the response of fear and keep you safe from harmful and dangerous experiences.
The more mature, rational part of your brain is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that controls goal-oriented behavior, planning, and other executive functions.
One thing that’s helpful when your amygdala is sending messages of fear throughout your body is to use the prefrontal cortex to send re-assuring messages of safety. To tell yourself that you’re going to be okay. And to reinforce that you’re secure–away from danger.
A helpful and efficient way to do this is through journaling.
Now before you say, “no, that doesn’t work,” let me show you a few new techniques to try.
Journaling can be helpful in many ways.
There’s a saying that you have to “name it to tame it,” which means that you must name a feeling in order to experience some sense of relief from it. And journaling is very helpful for this reason–it teaches you how to articulate your feelings and get space from them.
There are two techniques of journaling that you may find helpful.
The first is to write continuously on a page. Just let your emotions pour out onto the paper or word document without a filter. Amplify your emotions by using metaphors to explain what you’re feeling. Add quotes or pictures if that’s helpful.
While you’re writing, the purpose is to flood the page with your thoughts–no editing! Don’t analyze what you’re writing or try to change it. Just allow your emotions to come out without the need to check your spelling and grammar.
Stop this journaling session after you experience some clarity and a sense of relief. For some people and situations, that can be 15 minutes or so. For others, it takes them longer. But trust me, getting your thoughts out of your mind and into a document can help clarify and organize your emotional experience.
Another type of journaling involves using prompts.
Some of these prompts can be things like: What am I feeling right now? When are times throughout my life that I felt the most sad or uneasy? What am I longing for in my life? Or, what am I thankful for?
Each of these questions can help facilitate a journaling experience that organizes your thoughts by helping you understand and get in touch with your feelings. And that organization and synthesis will help your prefrontal cortex tell your amygdala to chill out.
After your journaling is complete, feel free to burn the page. Throw it away. Or delete the word document. Leaving these thoughts behind can feel cleansing.
And if you do a practice like this regularly, it can help improve your self-awareness. Over time, journaling can help you reduce stress and anxiety to a more manageable level, empowering you to achieve your goals.
The next time you’re going through a difficult circumstance and need some relief, try to name and tame your thoughts through journaling.
It’s free, efficient, and something that many people find helpful.