For managing stress I recommend you try 5 minutes each per day of mindful descriptive and mindful expressive writing; plus longer, less frequent, writes using other techniques such as positive and perspective shift writing.
I think of mindful writing as a sort of writing meditation. Mindfulness meditation is known to be helpful for wellbeing but not everyone can manage to meditate. For some people, mindful writing is easier to master.
Mindful descriptive writing is calming when you are feeling stressed or anxious. Try this: notice something in the real world and write about it. Use all the senses and write in some detail. Alternatively, write to describe an object, or a photograph of a beautiful place. In this kind of mindful writing, avoid writing about thoughts, associations and feelings. Write descriptively, not judgementally.
Many of us spend too much time worrying about the past or the future. Regular writing in the present moment can help redress that balance, as well as being calming and relaxing. Writing to describe how you feel right now, e.g., physically and/or mentally, is an example of mindful expressive writing – provided you write only about how you feel in the present moment. Try this: starting at your toes, write about how each part of you is feeling physically. Work your way up to your head. Once you’ve finished writing about how you feel physically, go on to write about how you feel mentally and emotionally right now.
When we are stressed we often dwell on the negatives and forget about times when things went well. Positive writing can contribute to a more realistic (rather than negatively skewed) viewpoint and increase motivation and positivity. You can write about positive memories, times when things went well. Or, look for and write about the positives in a current situation. Or, imagine a future where you’ve achieved a desired outcome (large or small) and write in the present tense as if the achievement is happening right now or has just happened. Write about what that future looks like and how you feel about it.
Writing from another point of view can bring insights and help put things into a more helpful perspective. For example: think about a significant event or conversation that happened to you recently. Imagine that you are the other person in the conversation, someone outside the room who overheard everything, or a coffee cup on the table. Write about the event or conversation, in first person, from this new point of view. Alternatively you could write about the event or conversation in the third person. This type of writing can bring uncomfortable insights, but it’s worth trying for the improvements in understanding and personal communications that can result.
You might think you’re so busy that you don’t have time to try these ideas. You’re so wrong – 5 minutes of mindful writing (or a mindful walk or meditation) in your lunch break could increase your clarity of thinking and productivity so much in the afternoon that it actually makes time for you. So my parting message is, don’t put off trying these stress management techniques until you have more time to spare – try them when you need them most – when you’re busy and stressed.