Diary, Good Stuff, Productivity

Down on Paper: An Exercise in Stress Processing


About a month ago, my stress level was the highest it’s been in a long time. I had a lot going on at once, I couldn’t focus, and it was switching my anxiety on. Not great.

I decided to write down everything that was causing me stress. I chose to physically write these items down on paper because I wanted a physical representation of the thoughts that were plaguing me. I gave myself time to think as I wrote.

My actual stress list

For my purposes, I started with the main stressers and then wrote down the several stressers relating to each of those stressers.

For example, one of my main stressers was called Artemis (our new puppy) and I had several offshoot stressers all relating to her, listed in a column beside her name:

  • biting/chewing
  • when can she get her rabies shot?
  • which flea treatment?
  • switching vets
  • how often should we deworm?
  • how early will I need to get up with her when we go back to work?

I scanned this note into my phone so I always had access to it. Then, using the markup function on the iPhone, I went through my entire list of stress causing items and crossed off items I just simply couldn’t do anything about in the immediate future—i.e. items that I couldn’t fix or solve on my own. Items that were simply out of my control.

I was able to cross off a few uncontrollable items. Then I went through each item and worked on each stresser like it was a to-do list. I took some time to focus on each one until I knew how to either solve it or make it so I was at least not stressing over it. I discussed some items with my partner to get his input.

As each item was solved or worked through, I crossed it off.

I thrive on using lists and I found this exercise really helped me. Crossing off items I couldn’t do anything about was likely the most helpful thing about it because it made me prioritize things I could actually do something about and my mind kind of just… let go of the things I couldn’t do anything about.

My brain only had enough room to stress over a few things at a time so being able to make room for those items was a major relief.

I can’t promise this will work for everybody, most people, many people or even several people but I figured if it helped another person deal with their own stressers, it would be worth it to share this exercise.

Diary, Good Stuff, Productivity


Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.

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