Stress Diaries

Identifying Causes of Short-Term Stress

Keep a Stress Diary

Log your stress events.

© iStockphoto/danielle71

Whether stress is caused by rush-hour traffic, a heavy workload, difficult customers, or unpleasant news, many of us experience it in some form during the day. The problem is that if stress goes unchecked, it can affect our productivity and, worse still, our health.

This is where keeping a Stress Diary can be useful. 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 they help you to identify the levels of pressure at which you prefer to operate. (After all, a little bit of pressure can be a good thing!)

The idea behind Stress Diaries is that, on a regular basis, you record information about the stresses you're experiencing, so that you can analyze 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 analyze 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 pressure at which you operate most effectively.
  • How you may be able to improve the way you manage stress.

Using the Tool

To get started, 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 any stressful incidents.

Every time you make an entry, record the following information:

  • The date and time of the entry.
  • The most recent stressful event you experienced.
  • How happy you feel now, using a subjective assessment on a scale of -10 (the most unhappy you've ever been) to +10 (the happiest you've been). As well as this, write down the mood you're feeling.
  • How effectively you're 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:

  • The symptoms you felt (for example, "butterflies in the stomach," anger, headache, raised pulse rate, sweaty palms, and so on.).
  • How well you handled the event: Did your reaction help solve the problem, or did it actually make things worse?

Analyzing the Diary

Once you've kept a Stress Diary for a number of days, you can analyze it and take action on it:

  • First, look at the different stresses you experienced during the time you kept your diary. Highlight the most frequent stresses, and also the ones that were most unpleasant.
  • Working through the stresses you've highlighted, look at your assessments of their underlying causes, and your appraisal of how well you handled the stressful event. Do these highlight problems that need to be fixed? If so, list these areas.
  • Next, look through your diary at the situations that cause you stress. List ways in which you can change these situations for the better.
  • Finally, look at how you felt when you were under pressure, and explore how it affected your happiness and your effectiveness. Was there a middle level of pressure at which you were happiest and performed best?

Having analyzed your diary, you should fully understand what the most important and frequent sources of stress are in your life, and you should appreciate the levels of pressure 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.

Note:

You'll reap the real benefits of having a Stress Diary in the first few weeks that you use it. After this, you may find that you have better uses for your time.

If, however, your lifestyle changes, or you begin to suffer from stress again, then it may be worth using the diary approach one more time. You'll probably find that the stresses you face have changed.

Next Steps

Your next step is to get your stress under control.

Start by looking at the people and events that cause the most stress for you.

Tip:

Some stresses will be unavoidable, especially if you're in a job with lots of responsibility. Our article on Cognitive Restructuring can help you to reduce stress by changing the way that you think about things.

More Tips and Resources

  • Listen to our Expert Interview "Take the Stress Out of Your Life" with Dr. Jay Winner. He offers some great tips for eliminating stress and putting more relaxation into your day.
  • Use imagery   during your day to relax and reduce stress.
  • Consider taking a vacation  . Keep in mind that although the people or tasks causing your stress will still be waiting for you when you get back, a vacation can give you enough distance to relax, refresh, and come up with some effective solutions.
  • Meditation can be very effective for dealing with stress, even if you can only meditate for five minutes at a time. Our article, Meditation for Stress Management  , shows you how to start using this technique.
  • Are you getting enough sleep  ? Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep to stay healthy and productive. A lack of sleep can definitely contribute to your stress level.
  • Do you find it difficult to "switch off" at end of the day? Learn how to relax after a hard day  .
  • Our Bite-Sized Training session on Stress Busters can help you deal with stress by showing you how to relax in situations where you have no control.

Note:

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. Seek the advice of a qualified health professional if you have any concerns over stress-related illnesses, or if stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness.

Key Points

Stress Diaries help you to get a good understanding of the routine, short-term stresses that you experience in your life. Using them, you can 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 let you to understand the levels of stress at which you are happiest, and most effective.

To keep a Stress Diary, download our worksheet and make a regular diary entry, for example, 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.

 

Download Worksheet

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

Add this article to My Learning Plan

Comments (13)
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Bree and April,
    We all experience different levels of stress in our lives and we all deal with them differently. And, we all get through it in the end!

    April makes a good point about not stopping and thinking when she's in the middle of things. We often say here in numerous different types of discussions that it is so important to STOP, step back and get a different perspective. And that is what you need to do when you are stressed.

    Yes, sometimes doing something like a stress diary or taking time out when you don't have any free time feels like a burden or that you do not have the 'head space' to think about things. Yet, the rewards are immense!

    I strongly encourage you, the next time you are feeling stressed, to take that time out, take a step back, and look at what is making you stressed so you can figure out strategies to deal with it. Wouldn't it be nicer if getting through the stress was 'shorter and easier'?

    Glad to hear you are getting through things Bree. Just remember we're here if you want to bounce around anything.

    Midgie
  • april123 wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Bree

    I don't use the tools I have at my disposal, because I don't STOP AND THINK when I'm very stressed. It's something that I am working on and that I am learning to do...to take time out, write down what I'm stressing about and then working out what the best way forward would be. In the past I never wanted to do that because I didn't want to face the reality of some of those issues because it either meant that I had to change, change my behaviour or change my perception about something. To sum it up in one sentence: I was in many cases denying my reality by playing ostrich and burying my head in the sand. What I have since learnt is that it takes a lot of stress away from me if I take my head out the sand, write down the reality of the situation, face it and make plans to get ahead.

    If I had to be dead honest, I think in some cases I was also just too lazy to do things like keeping a stress diary. I justified it by thinking that I was already so stressed and had so much to do, I couldn't possibly do ONE MORE thing. In the back of my head I knew I should, but I just didn't do it. It's like taking horrible medicine. If you're sick enough you'll drink it. Maybe I just wasn't 'sick' enough. Or maybe I told myself that I'll get through it without the 'medicine' - which I eventually did - but it took longer and was harder than what it probably would have been with the 'medicine'!


    April
  • Bree wrote Over a month ago
    I just re-read this article and some of the related links because I have recently gone through an extremely difficult, challenging and stressful time. I've now come through the other end (and finally catching my breath!) and am wondering why I did not implement some of the strategies outlined in this article.

    Even though I know a fair bit about 'stress management strategies', I was not able to implement them very effectively while I was in the middle of the situation (even though I knew I would benefit from them).

    Any ideas why we might know something and know it will benefit us, yet do not take action? It doesn't make sense to me and I know I've done the same thing in the past!!!

    Bree ... feeling better about things now, that I've come out the other side!
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Something I love about the stress diary is that it teaches you to ask the right questions and analyze the right things.

    This morning I was getting rather stressed about not having a proper internet connection in the coastal town where I am on holiday. The locals are very laid back and don't seem to care too much - which stressed me up even more! When I sat thinking about it all after addressing the problem, I realised that the lack of efficiency more than anything else, was the major cause of my stress this morning.

    Such realizations help us to be more aware and on the lookout for potentially stressful situations.

    Would like to know what stresses other people up?

    Kind regards
    Yolandé
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    Hi All

    We’ve given this popular article a review. The updated tool is now at :
    http://www.mindtools.com/community/page ... TCS_01.php

    You can discuss the article by replying to this post!

    Thanks

    James
  • Helena wrote Over a month ago
    Hi All

    I've chosen this article to be our Featured Favorite this week because it's such an effective first step towards regaining control when you're feeling that you can't cope.

    http://www.mindtools.com/community/page ... TCS_01.php

    Please do share your experience of using this tool by replying to this post. Did any of your findings surprise you?

    Best wishes

    Helena
  • HeatherN wrote Over a month ago
    G'day to you cobberas,
    Yes, of course, the first question is always "What's Important Now"...Many of us get so caught up in daily routines that we forget to ask that question, then realize that the day has ended without accomplishing what we set out to do, or perhaps attending to something important. Preparing for the day is so important, to do lists help.
    HeatherN
  • cobberas wrote Over a month ago
    G'day Heather

    I totally agree with you that effective time management must include prioritising of itemised tasks. I particularly like Steven Covey's quadrant model (which is probably in Mind Tools somewhere!).

    I also agree with "Live, love, toil with a will" but I wonder at the philosophy of placing "no faith in Time". I think that if we live our life on the basis that "the clock may soon be still" we may not live at all! Perhaps we gain a better quality of life by having faith in our long-range campaigns as well as our appreciation of "Now". As you say - balance is of essence!

    Cheers
    cos
  • HeatherN wrote Over a month ago
    After reading the posts submitted lately regarding journaling on things like stress and activity logs on time management, a piece I came across a while back seemed so appropriate for sharing.

    The clock of Life is wound but once
    And no man has the Power
    To tell just when the hands will stop
    At late or early hour.

    Now is the only time you own
    Live, love, toil with a will
    Place no faith in Time, my friend
    For the clock may soon be still.

    I agree that the idea of a journal is a great way to help you manage your time better, by breaking every activity down, however, will it provide one with the correct order of things and balance we so often overlook? Balance must be considered as part of the equation. Any thoughts on that? HeatherN
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Lulu

    Stress Diaries are wonderful when you're feeling stressed, because they prompt you to think about the many large or small things that are causing this stress. Once you know what these are, you can take action to manage them (and often this action is quite simple, once you know what the problem is.)

    I'd question, though, their value if you're not feeling under stress - I don't think you'd get much from them. However, if you do feel stressed at any stage, I'd really encourage you to give them a try!

    (A note: It's often worth using a related technique - keeping an Activity Log - for a couple of weeks every now and then as a check on your time management. For more on this, see http://www.mindtools.com/community/php/ ... HTE_03.htm).

    Best wishes!

    James
Show all comments

Where to go from here:

Join the Mind Tools Club

Click to join Mind Tools
Printer-friendly version
Return to the top of the page

Create a Login to Save Your Learning Plan

This ensures that you don’t lose your plan.


Connect with…

Or create a Mind Tools login. Existing user? Log in here.
Log in with your existing Mind Tools details
Lost Username or Password
You are now logged in…

Lost username or password?

Please enter your username or email address and we'll send you a reminder.

Thank You!

Your log in details have been sent to the email account you registered with. Please check your email to reset your login details.

Create a Mind Tools Login
Your plan has been created.

While you're here, subscribe to our FREE newsletter?

Learn a new career skill every week, and get our Personal Development Plan workbook (worth $19.99) when you subscribe.


Thank You!

Please check your Inbox, and click on the link in the email from us. We can then send you the newsletter.