Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month. In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them. These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself.
Journals often evoke memories of the “dear diary” days of elementary and middle school where we would write down (what felt like) the most important parts of our lives. As we became adults, many of us may have left that practice behind, deeming it as childish. Or the time we normally would have spent writing is taken up by the demands of daily life.
But I’m here to tell you to bring this practice back! Keeping up a habit of writing the day's events or another way of recording life has positive psychological benefits. For individuals who struggle with anxiety or depression, journaling can be a great way to process emotions and cope. It also provides self-care for anyone looking to understand themselves better.
Here are a few of the benefits for journaling:
Journaling provides stress relief.
When dealing with stress and anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed by the thought that it is all too much, writing down the anxious thoughts your having can be a good way to release them from the hold they may have on your mind. Keeping track of thoughts that pop into your mind and the level of anxiety that you feel while thinking them can be a great strategy for reducing your stress.
Journaling nurses your creativity.
Journaling leads you to look at your own life through a creative lens by expressing yourself using words and descriptions for your own experiences and emotions. If you are someone who enjoys writing, a journaling practice can help you break past some of the fears you may have surrounding your writing.
Journaling leads you to slow down and give yourself space to reflect on your emotions and experiences.
For many of us, life tends to go at a pretty frenetic pace, and in the midst of the crazy, we get caught in a loop of reacting impulsively to daily events rather than considering our options. Slowing down and identifying the emotions you are feeling and the ways they affect your decisions can help you to pay more attention to them and thoughtfully respond to your circumstances. Reflecting on emotions and cognitions can also help to have a more positive outlook in your life.
Journaling provides an outlet for negative emotions and gives you space to grieve.
If you are feeling angry, we would probably all agree that it’s not the best idea to punch a fist through the wall. Writing can help you to take a break from the heated situation, slow down, and look at what might be lying behind that negative emotion. Similarly, when you experience a major loss, grieving can feel like a foreign concept, and you can be left without a clue of how to help yourself process and feel better. Journaling can be a tool to help move through the grieving process.
Journaling has physical health benefits.
Writing has been shown to help those who suffer from terminal or life threatening diseases. Part of this is the effect that writing has on our immune systems. One theory for this is that writing helps us to keep from bottling up emotions, and suppressed emotions can lead to undue stress.
Hopefully I've succeeded in convincing you that journaling is a helpful practice you can take up, but then comes the question: how do I do it? There are lots of different options out there for journaling, and I’ve used several at different times in my life for different purposes. Pick one or two of the options below that sounds appealing to you, and get started!
This is often a good place to start. Write down whatever comes to mind. This doesn’t have to be an hours-long process, but even if you jump in with 5 minutes or so of writing, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it starts to come. Many people do this practice as “morning pages”, described as three pages daily of stream-of-consciousness writing.
Taking time to list things for which you are grateful has many positive benefits psychologically. One particular benefit that feels most impactful to me personally is the effect gratitude can have on your view of your circumstances: rather than feeling worried about the things you don’t have, it can help you to see all the positive aspects that already exist in your life.
This is one of my favorite journaling strategies: write out your prayers in a journal as if you have having a conversation with God. For those of us who are extroverts, this feels more relational than a stream-of-consciousness journal, and it can provide a way for you to connect spiritually and experience emotions with God.
Examen (or examen of consciousness) is an Ignatian spiritual practice done at the end of each day to review the day’s events for the presence or absence of God. I’ve also heard it simplified as listing the positive and negative aspects of the previous day. You can choose what feels comfortable to you, but this nightly practice can be a good way for you to reflect back on the day and identify patterns of positive experiences to increase or negative patterns to avoid.
As mentioned earlier, emotions are often hard to define, or they can be tricky to discern between. Take some time to use a Feelings Wheel like this one to identify what feeling you’re having, and then answer these questions: “What am I feeling? How do I know I’m feeling that way? How intensely do I feel that way? What do I want to do as a result? What happened just before I started feeling that way? How do I wish I were feeling instead?”
You may be someone who expresses themselves not so much in words, but in pictures. If you’re someone who loves to draw or create pieces of art, do so in a way that expresses your emotions and experiences and allows you the space to process your daily experience. There are plenty of ideas available with a quick Google search – choose one that feels right to you!
How will you take a step to try journaling this week?
At Restored Hope, we place a priority on self-care and treating your body and mind with kindness. If you’re struggling to find time or space to practice self-care, or if you find yourself in overwhelmed by struggles of depression or anxiety that make it difficult to be kind to yourself, we want to help you! Contact us at our Novi or Ann Arbor therapy offices at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how we can help you.