A stress diary can be a valuable stress management tool in learning to cope with stress. A stress diary monitors your stress levels and gives you objective information on your causes of stress and the way that you currently deal with stress.
The old adage that "you can’t solve a problem until you identify it" is also true of stress management.
By keeping keeping a record and monitoring your stress you enhance your awareness of stress in at least four important ways:
Initially, when I monitored my stress in a diary I thought that it would be time consuming and yield little value...I thought I already knew what was stressing me out and how I reacted!
...BUT I was amazed at just what I did find out - and it only took me a few minutes each day to fill out my stress diary!
My clients also find that the monitoring and recording their stress is an valuable tool that raises their awareness of what is stressing them out and helps them to set stress management goals.
Recording instructions for the stress diary
The information that you fill out on the stress log is for you. It is important to be as honest as you can when filling out the stress log - otherwise you are only doing yourself a dis-service.
Try to be as accurate as possible.
If your causes and reactions to stress are hazy, then you can expect that your stress management solutions are likely to be hazy and non-targeted as well.
By keeping a log sheet until lesson 2 of the stress management course (so that is for 7 days) allows you to get a rough guide of an average week - if there is such a thing as an average week!!
Download and print out several copies of this stress diary.
Time of day. Include the time of day that you are feeling stressed. Be conscientious about this. I find it useful to carry a copy of this stress sheet with me and record in the diary just after the event.
Intensity of stress. Rate from 1 (very little stress) to 10 (extreme stress).
What was the situation. Identify the situation that caused you stress. Attempt to be as precise as you can. Was it the annoying comment from a coworker or were you stuck in a traffic jam.
What was the preceding event. Perhaps you have woken up late, or you are late to a meeting, or have an impending deadline - and you just didn't need that traffic jam or the annoying comment from your co-worker. Sometimes the preceding cause (rather than the actual situation - e.g. the annoying comment) can be the "straw that breaks the camel's back".
Remember that stress is often how the situation is perceived (see our definition of stress) - so if you can, attempt to identify the thoughts underlying the stressful situation or preceding event.
What were your symptoms. Was your heart racing, did your breathing speed up, or perhaps you got a tension headache? These are exampes of some physical symptoms of stress. Alternatively you may notice that you have difficulty concentrating, adopt a more negative outlook or feel more anxious and fearful. These are some of the psychological and emotional symptoms of stress. See this list of symptoms of stress if you need a helping hand.
How did you respond. Here you can describe how you responded. For example, did you react to the annoying comment from the co-worker or see the situation as an opportunity to practice your breathing exercises? How are you currently coping with each of the causes of stress?
How effective was your response. Here it is important to rate from 1 ("not effective at all") to 10 ("extremely effective"). This rating will give you an idea of whether you want to improve on the way that you react to stress.
Rate your mood now. At the time of the stressful situation and immediately after your response to it, rate your mood from 1 ("not a good mood at all") to 10 ("a very good mood")
What you can use the stress diary for?
I find that, apart from the general tediousness of a stress diary, that keeping a stress diary is very informative.
I have had clients in my practice rate this as an important learning opportunity.
They have told me that they have learned more about the causes of stress, the events that lead up to the situations causing stress and how they respond or react to the stress.
Which of course gives them the baseline knowledge to implement stress management goals and reduce stress.
There are a number of important questions that you can ask yourself once you have filled out your stress diary.
This type of objective information can then be used as part of your stress management plan.
I discuss some these important questions in lesson 2 of the stress management course and some of the stress management goals that you may want to set for yourself.
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