Journaling was one of the main tools I used to empty out my pressure cooker of emotions which caused me years of chronic back pain.

how to de-stress with journaling
how to de-stress with journaling

Yes… this technique does help with chronic pain but it’s also fantastic for anyone who wants to:

I have spent hours alone with my pen and paper. During this time, I experienced first-hand the incredible power of journaling. I also learnt if you want to journal effectively there are loads of tips and different ways to experiment with.

Here are some of my favourites…

Where to journal?

At the height of my journaling days, I would wake up before the sun, at least an hour before the kids, just to get some alone time to think clearly and journal.These days it’s not unusual to find me snuggled up in bed journaling. Aren’t I quite the romantic?!?!

The most important thing is to find a place where you feel safe and can relax, knowing that no one will disturb you.

How long?

It takes time for our minds to kick into gear, having a timer allows us to relax knowing on one hand there is no rush and on the other hand you will not be writing forever.

Set your timer for 20 minutes and then turn it over so that you’re not clock watching.

What should I write about?

‘Opening a can of worms’ is a common expression, and one used to suggest ‘facing a problem’, but in a negative connotation. However, I think it works well for journaling too:

Imagine that all of your emotions are like ‘a can of worms’. Take the lid off and before they all escape, select one little worm at a time to journal about.

Worms (topics) can literally be anything that is on your mind. Or that you ‘think’ might be on your mind. The annoying family member, your best friend who just doesn’t seem to care, your unreasonable boss.

To get me started I wrote a list of topics from my past, present and future and then chose one per day to journal about.

Once you have the topics simply start by saying “I feel…” and then fill in the blank and then just keep writing.

Don’t be nice

No one is ever going to read what you write so go crazy. This is your chance to let off steam, really say what you think, feel and truly believe.

No holding back or being polite!!!

If you are concerned that someone may look over your shoulder, then try double writing each line making it completely illegible. We are more likely to let our imaginations run wild if we know it’s not readable.

What to expect?

You may experience a variety of different emotions as you journal. After all, we are tapping into areas we have deliberately bottled up for years. It is possible that you may experience anger, fear, shame, hatred, relief, joy…. The list is endless. It’s also possible in one session you may go through a whole rainbow of emotions. Just let the emotions flow through you and out of you.

If you feel the need to cry… have a good cry!

If you find you are stuck for words just keep your pen moving. Write “bla bla bla”. Or keep repeating “I feel……” then fill in the blank. Before you know it your words will start to flow again.

Should I keep my journaling?

No! Once you have these heavy thoughts and emotions out on paper I suggest you destroy them. The physical act of removing your thoughts from your life is very therapeutic.

Your thoughts are not you. They are just thoughts. You do not need to store them any more.

Five ways to journal

Unsent letters

Writing a letter to someone specific can be an incredible way to say all the things you would want to say but could not, or would not say to their face.

Maybe there is something you wish you had said to someone that has passed away. If so, this is a great method to try.

Don’t hold back… say it all… But seriously… Don’t send it

Stream of consciousness / Free writing

This is the easiest method to explain. Put pen to paper and start with “I feel…” and then fill in the blank. Keep writing, don’t stop, just let the words flow out.

This is a great method to use before bed just to empty out all the worries from the day.

Younger self to current self or Vice versa

For topics involving your childhood first picture yourself in a specific situation as a child. Then as that small child write a letter to the adult you are today.

Use the same language you would have done as a child and say anything no matter how trivial it may now seem now that you’re all grown up. E.g. “I hated you…I didn’t want you to treat me like that”.

If something from your past seems like ‘no big deal’, ask yourself this question. “Would you want your own child or a child you know to experience the same feelings you did as a child?”. If the answer is no, then this would make for a great topic to journal on.

You can also reverse this technique. As the adult you are today try writing to your younger self. Tell the mini version of you what you wish you had known when you were younger. Or simply send your younger self a letter with all the things you wish you had heard as a child.

Mind mapping

This simple method I use with my kids. Draw a circle in the center of the paper and brain dump everything that is on your mind. The idea is not to start fixing things but just simply empty out your head.

I used this recently and was surprised that Covid19 came up because I thought I was coping ok. But I was even more surprised by the specific points connected with Covid19 that were concerning me. Sometimes we put such a brave face on situations we even kid ourselves.

This is a great technique for when you feel overwhelm or for a specific period of time.


If your subject of journaling involves another person dead or alive you could try playing out the conversation.

The best part is that you get to play both parts deciding what everyone says.

It helps to have two different pens. In one pen write what you would like to say or get off your chest. In the second pen you write what you think their response would be. Continue the conversation until the timer sounds. It can be fascinating to watch how the dialog unfolds.

Now it’s your turn

Journaling can be eye opening and incredibly therapeutic. Explore what works for you. When you get started you may think ‘it’s not working’. You may worry that nothing new is coming up. But trust that your subconscious is emptying out even if you don’t consciously know it.

Even if you don’t feel stressed (I didn’t), I would challenge you to try some of these techniques and be surprised at what pops up!

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