This article explains the Stress Diary in a practical way. After reading this article, you’ll understand the basics of this powerful tool forpersonal development. Also, you can download the stress diary sample template to immediately get started with your own development when it comes to stress management.
What is a Stress Diary?
Keeping a stress diary is the process of noting down stressful or anxious moments, in order to later reveal what is causing these moments. Almost everyone experiences stressful situations sometimes, or more often, whether these are caused by traffic factors, difficult customers, setbacks, or work pressure. Stress is a natural reaction of the human body, meant to help the body in difficult situations. Without the stress mechanism, a human would not survive.
Research shows that people today are much more exposed to these stressful situations than before. Usually the stress level remains under control and the overall performance of the person experiencing stress is not affected negatively. But if the stress is not kept under control, it can be hazardous to the health or productivity of employees. For this reason, it is a good idea to find out which stress factors are at play, and which ones can be reduced so that employees stay healthy, productive and effective.
This is where the stress diary can make a difference. Usually, stress only strikes briefly, without realising it. By keeping a diary of stressful situations and environmental factors, the cause of the stress can be identified.
This article explains exactly what a stress diary is, how stress is created, aggravated and reduced, and you can download a stress diary sample template with accompanying analysis to use in your own life.
Stress and problem solving
This tool helps to learn how to deal with stress. The diary keeps track of stress levels and keeps objective information about the causes of stress, and how these are dealt with. There is a saying that a problem cannot be solved until the cause is identified. The same applies to stress management.
Benefits of a stress diary
By keeping a record and monitoring stress, awareness of stress is raised in four ways.
- The most important causes of stress can be identified
- All symptoms of stress are being tracked, and
- The response to this
- The most important basic information about stress and how this can best be managed
A step-by-step plan of how to keep a stress diary
In combination with the step-by-step plan listed below and the downloadable toolshero template, you can immediately get started with stress management yourself. Follow the steps, fill out the template, and effectively identify stress causes, and coping mechanisms.
Step 1: basic information stress moment
First, mention the time of when the stress occurs. Basic variables like these are very important to find correlations at a later stage. Be consistent with this, and bring a copy of this template with you at all times if necessary.
Step 2: Intensity
Grade the stress you have experienced in that moment. 1 is little stress, 10 is extreme stress.
Step 3: situation factors
Describe the situation when the stress occurred, and if known, the cause. Try to do this as diligently as possible. Was it just a comment from a colleague? Was it the traffic at the end of a long day’s work?
Step 4: prior events
With this step, describe the events prior to the stress moment. Was it just that comment from a colleague? Or did you wake up too late? An approaching deadline? Or too late for a meeting?
It could be that the foregoing situation was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Step 5: symptoms
What were all the symptoms of stress in this situation? Increased heartbeat? Heavy breathing? Or did you get a headache? These are examples of some physical indications of stress, but you may also be experiencing reduced concentration, anxiety, or developing a negative outlook. These are emotional or psychological symptoms pf stress. If you are not sure what the symptoms are, see the list of symptoms.
Step 6: reaction
In this section of the template, write down what your reaction looked like at the moment of stress. For example, were you trying to slow down your breathing through breathing exercises? Or did you react by making comments to others? In general, how do you handle stress?
Also note how effective your reaction was. Be honest with yourself and grade your reaction, from 1 for ineffective to 10 for extremely effective.
Step 7: rating mood
Finally, write down your mood at the time of the stressful situation, and your mood immediately after you reacted. 1 represents a very bad mood, and 10 represents a very good mood.
How can I learn from my stress diary?
Once the stress diary has been kept for several weeks, the results can be analysed by looking for patterns between stress moments. This helps the user to find out which things in life cause the most stress, or which coping mechanism best suits that particular situation. It is also possible that the stress diary provides new insights, for example a usually less stressed state around dinner time.
The most important aspect of keeping a stress diary is consistency and taking actual action based on the results. In some cases, a simple solution to stress factors can be found, such as an effective coping mechanism that seems to work better than others.
It seems complicated to consistently keep a diary that includes specific information about consciousness. Yet the use of a diary proves to be very simple after some practice. Not only will it help to become more effective, it will also help improve the mental state of people who sometimes or more often do not know what to do anymore. If you are unable to find patterns or causes of stress factors yourself, it is a good idea to take the information to a doctor or psychologist. These professionals can help find the stress factors as well as recommend valuable solutions.
Why do some people tend to be more stressed than others?
There are various reasons and causes for why some people experience stress more often and more intense than others. You could think: ‘I’m only stressed because I care so much’. That somewhat explains why some people are stressed more and more often than others. The value that a person places on achieving goals, for example, is directly related to the ability to handle stress. As mentioned earlier, it is completely normal to feel stress generated by environmental factors such as a relationship or ambitions. However, what helps a person not feel helplessly stressed is self esteem. The degree to which goal achievement is related to self esteem determines how stressed a person feels whilst achieving goals and coping with potential failure. When self esteem depends almost entirely on goal achievement, high levels of stress will be experienced. This is a reaction the body evokes, as failure means you are not good enough.
Some lead lives which simply have more potential moments for creating stress than others. Different circumstances can be the cause for this. Think of financial stability, people who are close to you, health or work situations. Some people’s lives are simply more stressful than others. The level of self-esteem and autonomy a person has in such situations determines how stressful the situation is experienced. However, even if someone does not often notice stress, it can still pay off to keep a stress diary.
Take the following example. A person who has just been entrusted with a long-desired position with additional responsibilities is less likely to become stressed than someone who is overworked due to poor management.
Another example is a person who chooses to lead a minimalist lifestyle, versus someone who is forced to adopt the same lifestyle due to lack of opportunity or financial resources. If a person chooses a situation himself, the chance that extreme stress will occur is lower than if external factors lead to someone having to make a forced decision.
Stress and personality factors
In the world of psychology, stress is a much discussed and extensively researched phenomenon. An often used phrase in psychology is the Big Five. These are five characteristics of personalities, namely, openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Everyone has different levels of each of these characteristics. The total simply manifests itself in our personality. When it comes to stress, neuroticism is the most important factor, as opposed to emotional stability.
Where someone is on the spectrum between these two will determine to some extent how stress is handled. Nobody likes to be called neurotic, but it is simply a term and certainly not a judgment. Too much neuroticism means that someone is very sensitive, someone with more emotional stability will be more able to see, process, and take action from a healthy and clear perspective.
Childhood and stress
Research has shown that experiences that people have at a young age, influence adult life in different ways. In psychology, a lot of research is done on the bond between child and caregiver. In many cases, the nature of this attachment determines how relationships are dealt with later in life.
For example, a safe bond between child and parent is characterised by attention, love, warmth, and conditioning at the right moments. Children who grow up in these circumstances are more likely to become a balanced person with good sense of self-esteem, than a child who does not have a safe bond. A balanced person can respond well to criticism, and is willing to take risks without fear of failure. And as we have seen, this has a significant impact on stress management and personal development.
An insecure bond between children and caregivers makes it more likely that as adults they respond in an unhelpful way to stressful situations. How the parents point out the child’s mistakes or emotional needs, has a lasting impact on how the child’s self-image is developed. Such an insecure attachment during childhood is often related to depression, anxiety, poor regulation of emotions, or trust issues. All these factors make dealing with stress even more challenging than it would be for someone who doesn’t have to deal with this.
During the same childhood, people also develop a sense of choice and autonomy. Learned helplessness is a term used to express that a person has be taught through early experience that he or she has no control over their environment. Examples include growing up in poverty, experiencing a lot of relocations, deaths, and more. These are all situations in which a child experiences what it is like to not have control over their environment. This lack of autonomy can lead to an adult having a hard time making choices and responding to stress.
One of the clearest indicators that some respond to stress differently than others is PTSD. A post-traumatic stress disorder is in some cases developed by people who have experienced extreme violence. Others, who have experienced the same, will not develop this. The most well-known example of this is veterans.
What often happens in people with PTSD is that their ability to deal with future stressful situations is seriously diminished. Even though many feel they have recovered after a period of time, for some the ability to deal with stress remains permanently impaired.
Stress Diary template
You can download the stress diary template to immediately get started with your own development when it comes to stress management.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Do you recognise the explanation of the stress diary? Do you keep a stress diary? Do you think this tool can help you manage stress better? Do you know anyone who has been helped by keeping a stress diary? Who would you recommend this tool to? Have you downloaded the toolshero-template for the stress diary yet? Do you have any tips or comments?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- O’Connor, D. B., Jones, F., & Conner, M. (2011). Psychological stress, diary methods, and eating behavior. In Handbook of Behavior, Food and Nutrition (pp. 1619-1633). Springer, New York, NY.
- Gulian, E., Glendon, A. I., Matthews, G., Davies, D. R., & Debney, L. M. (1990). The stress of driving: A diary study. Work & Stress, 4(1), 7-16.
- Carney, M. A., Armeli, S., Tennen, H., Affleck, G., & O’Neil, T. P. (2000). Positive and negative daily events, perceived stress, and alcohol use: A diary study. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 68(5), 788.
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