Identifying Causes of Short-Term Stress
Many of us experience stress in some form every day, whether it's caused by rush-hour traffic, a heavy workload, difficult customers, or unpleasant news. 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. Going through the process of logging anxious moments is good for understanding the causes of short-term stress in your life.
This is important because, often, these stresses flit in and out of our minds without getting the attention and focus that they deserve. A Stress Diary can give an insight into how you react to stress, and 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!)
In this article we will explain what a Stress Diary is, and how to reap the benefits of keeping one. We'll also give you a downloadable working example and analysis of a Stress Diary a downloadable Stress Diary template, so that you can log your own experiences.
What Is a Stress Diary?
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.
As well as helping you to 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 your free Stress Diary template and make regular entries (for example, every hour).
If you have any difficulty remembering to write in your Stress Diary, set an alarm to remind you to make your next entry.
Make an entry in your diary after any stressful incidents, and record the following information:
- The date and time.
- 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 zero 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 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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- If a person or group of people are causing your stress, our article, Dealing With Difficult People, should help.
- Does any of your stress come from disorganization or lack of knowledge of time-management? If so, our How Good Are Your Time Management Skills? quiz will help you target key skills to build.
- Our article on Job Analysis will help you identify structural problems with stress that could be causing problems.
- Is burnout contributing to the stress you're experiencing? Our Burnout Self-Test can help you pinpoint problems here, and will help you deal with them.
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.
Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, 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.
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 template 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.
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. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!