Stress Diaries are important for understanding the causes of short-term stress in your life. They also give you an important insight into how you react to stress, and help you to identify the level of stress at which you prefer to operate.
The idea behind Stress Diaries is that, on a regular basis, you record information about the stresses you are experiencing, so that you can analyse these stresses and then manage them.
This is important because often these stresses flit in and out of our minds without getting the attention and focus that they deserve.
As well as helping you capture and analyse the most common sources of stress in your life, Stress Diaries help you to understand:
The causes of stress in more detail.
The levels of stress at which you operate most effectively.
How you react to stress, and whether your reactions are appropriate and useful.
Stress Diaries, therefore, give you the important information that you need to manage stress.
Using the Tool:
Stress Diaries are useful in that they gather information regularly and routinely, over a period of time. This helps you to separate the common, routine stresses from those that only occur occasionally. They establish a pattern that you can analyse to extract the information that you need.
Download our free Stress Diary template and make regular entries in your Stress Diary (for example, every hour). If you have any difficulty remembering to do this, set an alarm to remind you to make your next diary entry.
Also make an entry in your diary after each incident that is stressful enough for you to feel that it is significant.
Every time you make an entry, record the following information:
The date and time of the entry.
The most recent stressful event you have experienced.
How happy you feel now, using a subjective assessment on a scale of -10 (the most unhappy you have ever been) to +10 (the happiest you have been). As well as this, write down the mood you are feeling.
How effectively you are working now (a subjective assessment, on a scale of 0 to 10). A 0 here would show complete ineffectiveness, while a 10 would show the greatest effectiveness you have ever achieved.
The fundamental cause of the stress (being as honest and objective as possible).
You may also want to note:
How stressed you feel now, again on a subjective scale of 0 to 10. As before, 0 here would be the most relaxed you have ever been, while 10 would show the greatest stress you have ever experienced.
The symptom you felt (e.g. “butterflies in your stomach”, anger, headache, raised pulse rate, sweaty palms, etc.).
How well you handled the event: Did your reaction help solve the problem, or did it inflame it?
You will reap the real benefits of having a stress diary in the first few weeks. After this, the benefit you get will reduce each additional day. If, however, your lifestyle changes, or you begin to suffer from stress again in the future, then it may be worth using the diary approach again. You will probably find that the stresses you face have changed. If this is the case, then keeping a diary again will help you to develop a different approach to deal with them.
Analyze the diary at the end of this period.
Analyzing the Diary
Analyze the diary in the following ways:
First, look at the different stresses you experienced during the time you kept your diary. List the types of stress that you experienced by frequency, with the most frequent stresses at the top of the list.
Next, prepare a second list with the most unpleasant stresses at the top of the list and the least unpleasant at the bottom.
Looking at your lists of stresses, those at the top of each list are the most important for you to learn to control.
Working through the stresses, look at your assessments of their underlying causes, and your appraisal of how well you handled the stressful event. Do these show you areas where you handled stress poorly, and could improve your stress management skills? If so, list these.
Next, look through your diary at the situations that cause you stress. List these.
Finally, look at how you felt when you were under stress. Look at how it affected your happiness and your effectiveness, understand how you behaved, and think about how you felt.
Having analyzed your diary, you should fully understand what the most important and frequent sources of stress are in your life. You should appreciate the levels of stress at which you are happiest. You should also know the sort of situations that cause you stress so that you can prepare for them and manage them well.
As well as this, you should now understand how you react to stress, and the symptoms that you show when you are stressed. When you experience these symptoms in the future, this should be a trigger for you to use appropriate stress management techniques.
Stress Diaries help you to get a good understanding of the routine, short-term stresses that you experience in your life. They help you to identify the most important, and most frequent, stresses that you experience, so that you can concentrate your efforts on these. They also help you to identify areas where you need to improve your stress management skills, and help you to understand the levels of stress at which you are happiest, and most effective.
To keep a stress diary, make a regular diary entry with the headings above. For example, you may do this every hour. Also make entries after stressful events.
Analyze the diary to identify the most frequent and most serious stresses that you experience. Use it also to identify areas where you can improve your management of stress.
This is an abridged excerpt from the ‘Knowing Yourself’ module of the Mind Tools Stress Management Masterclass.
Warning: Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, can cause death. While these stress management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing stress, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over stress-related illnesses or if stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.