Guided journaling puts you in charge of your body’s automatic stress- and anxiety response. It’s an activity you choose to do intentionally that helps not just your thoughts but your entire mind and body system. You may be familiar with the adage “The pen is mightier than the sword.” While true, that’s not the half of it. The pen is mightier than anxiety and your body’s natural instinct to freak out in response to stress.
Can Guided Journaling Change the Body’s Stress Response?
The bad news about stress is that it wreaks havoc on our physical and mental health. When we’re stressed, the brain and body work together to try to get rid of it, turning on the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)—the “fight-or-flight” one— and keeping stress hormones like cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline coursing through us.
This is helpful if a stressor is short-lived because it allows us to respond and then calm back down. However, if stress is chronic—like anxiety, long-term relationship problems, financial troubles, work unhappiness, or involves a lot of fear and uncertainty like our COVID-19 situation—the brain and body never have a chance to reset. Thankfully, we have the power to intervene on our own behalf and regain wellbeing.
Even if we can’t do something about a stressor itself, we are still in control of our brain and body and can take measures to turn off the SNS and turn on the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)—the “rest-and-digest” one. One such method is through daily journaling.
Guided Journaling Lets You Affect Your Nervous System
Guided journaling offers many benefits. It doesn’t instantly change our external situation (although it can increase our awareness of what we can and can’t control and help us see where we can create new action plans to make changes big and small in our lives). What it does do is allow us to step back and reset, reigning in our wild, racing, anxious and stressful thoughts so that we are once again in charge of what we think. It makes us more intentional about the nature and quality of our thoughts.
When we can slow down and direct our thoughts, we relax our whole being. Our emotions respond positively, and we actually override our body’s natural stress response. Our mind and body operate as one, revving up and calming down together. When we step in at any point in the cycle of stress and response, we regain control.
Taking charge of our thoughts allows us to reduce stress and anxiety at their source. When we intervene, pen and journal in hand, we give our PNS the opportunity to take over and let its counterpart rest. The PNS releases acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that reduces heart rate and blood pressure and allows the digestive system to work efficiently once again (the SNS diverts blood flow from our core to our extremities so we can fight or run away; the PNS reverses this stress reaction). Then, because we are calmer and more collected, our thoughts flow freely and journaling become and even easier and more natural tool in reducing stress and anxiety.
Take Charge of Your Thoughts and More
The act of writing in a journal helps us shift our focus from what is wrong to what is right. We can then choose where to place our attention and energy. We don’t get rid of every problem, every negative, but we start to see that there are also good things in our lives, things for which we are grateful.
Cultivating this positivity and this gratitude in a journal is highly effective because the thoughts come from your own mind. They’re already a part of you; journaling just lets you see and develop them. As you refine your thoughts, your emotions follow. Your thoughts and feelings inspire your actions, and you’re able to respond to your life with purpose because your SNS remains calm while your PNS is in control.
When we journal, we are doing something on purpose that overrides the body’s automatic stress response. Rather than being at the mercy of our automatic negative thoughts and automatic physiological stress response, we write ourselves a new perspective and a new way of being. The pen really is mightier than the stress response.
Guided journaling is truly a powerful tool for your wellbeing. It’s one way to live in your moment…not your mind.
Exclusive for my followers and blog readers! Enjoy exercise from my two guided journals: The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety: Daily Prompts and Practices to Find Peace and The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal: A Creative Way to Stop Freaking Out.