Dear Diary


How journaling can help us stay mentally healthy.

Our minds are busy places. It can be difficult to manage our daily lives, let alone our emotions and mental well-being. Yet just as we can compose a to-do list for chores and appointments, writing things down can also help us to stay on top of our psychological housekeeping.

Journaling has grown in popularity for many reasons. It may be as simple as organising all the thoughts swimming around in our heads. Getting them out and seeing them written down often brings a clearer perspective. Our brains are particularly good at clinging on to worrying thoughts and playing them on a loop. This can be agonising and pointless because while they are stuck on repeat, problem solving becomes virtually impossible.

Diaries have always been viewed as private and only for the eyes of the author. This alone is incredibly freeing. You can write exactly how you are feeling, no holds barred. It can also be quite useful if you are unsure what it is you are feeling. Writing things down can reveal the emotions hiding behind the masks of anger or irritation. Once we are aware exactly what is happening for us, we can take steps to return to a more balanced emotional ground. It could be that we are burnt out from taking care of everyone except ourselves. We may be unaware of how much we have been neglecting our own needs until we see it in black and white.

Make it a habit.

Journaling is something that works best when done regularly. The real insight comes from writing down the good, the bad and the horrendous! So try to write when you feel OK, when you feel fantastic and when you feel distressed or exhausted. This is all valuable information to look back on. Sometimes when struggling to cope it can really help to know that we have survived these feelings before. It can also help us to identify what has helped us to overcome difficulties in the past. A bit like having a personal manual for fixing (or at least easing) difficult emotions.


Track those moods.

Another useful aspect of journaling is the mood tracker. By logging your mood for the day, be it happy, sad, stressed, angry can help us identify any patterns or triggers. This information is a great way of managing our mental state and eliminating or preparing for things that may have a negative effect. You can make it fun by using certain colours or emojis for different moods. If you find you are tracking a sad mood, it may be worth stepping back and looking at what is going on for you at this time. Are you feeling lonely or missing someone? Do you need human interaction and what steps can you take to achieve that? Naming our emotions gives us the opportunity to take action which is both healthy and empowering.


How else can writing help?

Worry time.

If you find yourself ruminating about certain things or have worries constantly popping into your head, then worry time might offer relief. Firstly, allocate yourself a specific time, every day to sit and focus solely on your worries. It doesn’t need to be longer than 30 minutes. Then when a worry sneaks up on you, simply jot it down and tell yourself you will look at it during worry time.
This allows you to call the worries up in a controlled and calm way. Much better than a sudden intrusion of anxiety. There is less panic, and the worries often feel less overwhelming and easier to problem solve. You may even wonder why you were worried at all!

Random writing

This is exactly as it sounds. Just sit and write. It doesn’t even have to make sense, just dump all of your thoughts and feelings down on paper. Get them out of your head and lighten the load.

Write a letter you would never send.

This sounds odd but it works! If you are struggling with bad feelings towards someone who has treated you badly – tell them in a letter. Write down everything you wouldlike to say to them and don’t hold back. You can rant and rave all you like because they will never see it. Once you are done, rip it up into tiny pieces. This exercise is incredibly cathartic and a fantastic way of letting go of pain and anger.

Creative Writing

Self-expression is a great way if dealing with past traumas and difficult emotions. You could make up a story or write a poem. Or perhaps you could write about your own life experiences. Everyone has a tale to tell, and you may discover a hidden flair for writing!

Flashcards


Write some positive mantras on brightly coloured card. Words like “I am enough” or “I can cope with this” are examples but choose whatever speaks to you personally. You can carry them with you and look at them when you need reassurance or a boost. A fantastic tool for calming nerves before a big event such as a job interview.

No matter the form, writing is an excellent therapy tool. Whether you treat yourself to a top of the range journal, use a smartphone or simply scribble your thoughts on a notepad, the results will be the same. It doesn’t have to be perfect or clever (unless you want it to be). Our worries tend to look and feel quite different when written down. So take a few minutes, pick up a pen and let the ink work its magic.

LOL!

Everyone likes a good laugh!

It is the ultimate feel good, stress release. Children laugh around 15 times an hour where as adults it averages at 15 times a day. To be fair, life is usually a more serious endeavour for an adult. There are bills to pay, responsibilities and well, just surviving. I’m not saying that life is completely stress free for children, sadly many have very difficult lives. However, it seems that a good chuckle doesn’t come as easily for the grown-ups of this world; which is a shame because it is so good for us!

Did you know?

The saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’ does have some scientific backing. It may not be the best medicine per se, but it definitely helps us stay healthy.

A good laugh reduces stress and physical tension. It can actually induce a relaxed state for 45 minutes.  

Laughing is good for our immune systems. When our stress levels are reduced, our immunity strengthens.

Laughter releases endorphins – the happy chemicals. This feeling of happiness even dulls any physical pain.

It also helps in maintaining healthy blood flow and proper functioning of blood vessels. This helps in promoting good heart health and protects us against any heart diseases.

Laughter burns calories! Laughing for 10 to 15 minutes can burn nearly 40 calories. Do this every day and it equates to a 3-4lb loss over a year.

A study in Norway concluded that people with a high sense of humour live longer than those who didn’t laugh that much.

It reduces tension and anxiety. This can enhance our moods and improve resilience too.

Laughing is incredibly contagious.

Laughter together is one of the easiest ways to keep relationships healthy, exciting, and refreshing.

While our sense of humours may vary, the act of laughing with others is the ultimate form of connection. On a personal level, I know that when I have shared a belly laugh with someone that our relationship has reached a new level of intimacy. You know, the kind of hysteria that is so consuming it’s almost impossible to catch a breath. It is such an amazing feeling, one we could all do with more of!

“Laughter is a sunbeam of the soul.” Thomas Mann

So, whether it’s cheesy jokes, a naughty stand up or funny videos of cats playing the piano. Anything that makes the corners of your mouth twitch – fill your boots with the stuff!

Don’t stress….

Two little words which are as helpful as a concrete parachute!

Although I have an understanding of what happens to my body and mind when I get stressed, it still has the annoying habit of catching me off guard.

We are told that a certain amount of stress can be useful. It keeps us alert, focused, allows us to flee from danger and perform at out optimal capacity. Although we have evolved, our fight/flight/freeze response dates back to our caveman ancestors. It was a matter of survival; fight, run, or die! In 2021, it seems the majority of us are living on our nerves. The stress response that may have saved us years ago is now a massive contributory factor in poor mental and physical health. Too much of the s word is really bad for us! That’s a stressful thought in itself.

So where is the line? How do we stop ourselves from crossing into the stress danger zone? What can we do if we find ourselves flailing around in a sweaty, heart racing, jaw clenching, stomach churning stress soup?

STRESS CYCLE

There are a few things I have found helpful when dealing with stress. The most basic one is having an understanding of what is happening to me on an emotional, physical and behavioural level. Don’t get me wrong, being aware is only half the battle and it takes practice. However, if I can catch myself before falling too deeply into the stress cycle then I have a chance of taking back control.

The perfect example is my most recent assignment deadline. I was quite tired and already feeling overwhelmed by the ticking clock. Deciding to power through and just get it done I set to work. The negative thoughts began to trickle in, so quietly at first I barely noticed them. However it wasn’t long before the critical voice was like a megaphone in my ear. “You are going to fail!” “You left it too late!” “Everything you write sounds like drivel!” Obviously my stress levels went up and the feeling of nausea and tension set in (physical). I wanted to cry, run and even quit my course (behavioural)

It was then I realised, I wasn’t doing so well. So I stopped. I actually told myself, out loud to STOP! The decision was made, right then to leave my work and focus on what I really needed. To take care of myself.

For me, that looks like a hot cuppa in a relaxing lavender scented bubble bath (not very original but it works). The negative thoughts were relentless in their quest to invade. While it would have been easy to get angry with their persistence, I knew the less oxygen I gave them the quieter they would become. So I calmly distracted myself with pleasant activities and let the noise continue in the background. The next day, feeling a lot better I managed to complete my assignment. It would be a stretch to say I enjoyed it, but it was definitely less painful!!

I recently devoured a great article on http://www.harleytherapy.co.uk that included tips from psychologists on how to handle a stressful day. They advocate this idea of having an “adult timeout.” By walking away from the stress even for 5 minutes, allows the anxious part of the brain to calm down. Once this happens, more rational balanced thoughts can come in and the physical symptoms have a chance to settle.

Deep breathing exercises are a great way to change what is happening in your body on a physiological level. I often use the 4-7-8 technique, even at times I don’t need it. By regularly practicing deep breathing it becomes sort of ingrained. This makes it easier to access at those times of stress or anxiety.

Mindfulness is another way to bring yourself back into the moment. You can even add exercise into the mix by going for a walk and being mindful of your natural surroundings. Use all 5 of your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, feel and taste? Really listen to the soundtrack of nature and concentrate on how the sun feels on your skin.

I have found it can also help to look at the bigger picture. Let’s be honest, life can be hectic and we often get so caught up on getting everything done that we forget how phenomenal our existence actually is. Here we are, on a planet that is positioned in the ideal place to sustain life. We are part of a universe so vast it is beyond our comprehension. When you view it from that perspective, does it really matter if you are five minutes late for the meeting?

I find mantras can help to ground me when I feel out of my depth. The soothing words bring me back to the here and now. It doesn’t matter what your chosen mantra is, if it brings you comfort and reassurence in the moment then that can only be a good thing.

These wristbands from Together UK – ZOX are awesome. They have a variety of phrases that can comfort and lift at difficult times. “I am safe” is my most used. Probably because when stress hits me, I feel anything but safe. These words remind me that what I am going through is just my body responding to a perceived danger. Most of the time it is all I need to calm down and reset.

Find what works for you, mantras, self care, exercise, a movie, a hug.

The most important person you can be kind to……is yourself!

Together UK – ZOX

If you are struggling, please reach out for support.

The Samaritans 116 123 www.samaritans.org

MIND http://www.mind.org.uk

Mental Health Matters http://www.mhm.org.uk

Hi, I’m Jennifer

Welcome to my blog.

The write way to good emotional health!

I will admit I am a novice at the whole blog writing thing. In typical “Jen style” I’m a little late to the party. Still, those who are first to arrive often leave early too; so despite my tardiness I promise to be the life and soul of this shindig! You may be wondering why I have decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon now. So, lets dive in!

I was diagnosed with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease at the age of 12, after which life quickly unravelled. The years of treatment and surgery that followed were, to say the least, devastating. Unfortunately, other than being handed a leaflet of relaxation exercises, I was not offered any mental health support. It is difficult to ascertain why and entirely possible I simply slipped through the net. So it was a case of “just getting on with things,” a task I had neither the emotional capacity or maturity to manage. The lack of emotional support inevitably had consequences. My adult life has been tainted by severe mental health problems. While I am grateful to be alive, there have been many times (and may be many more) when this was not the case.

So………mental health.

It gives me “the feeling.” You know the one? When something is so fascinating it draws you in and takes over. Learning about it, talking about it never gets old, even on the days my brain is fit to burst. My work as a Well-Being Practitioner, coupled with my own personal therapy has changed me in ways I didn’t know possible. Ironically, the very focus of my pain and grief now feeds my soul. It’s pure fascination, an insatiable urge to know more. That’s “the feeling,” and I want to share it.

Working in mental health is grounding. The human condition means that no one is immune. If you haven’t been personally affected, then I have no doubt that you know someone who has. Mental health services in the UK are stretched beyond breaking point. The net I slipped through as a child is now riddled with holes; so getting appropriate support when in crisis is exceedingly difficult, if not virtually impossible.

I have created this public blog simply because mental health cannot be overdone. Everyone’s experiences are unique and should always be taken seriously. Great strides have been made in getting people talking and removing the stigma. We need to keep up the momentum, now more than ever.

So what can you expect from this blog?

  • A safe, non-judgemental and informative space.
  • Although (hopefully) uplifting, inspiring and motivational, it will also be realistic. Sometimes, life is bloody hard. It is expected and OK to have bad days and difficult emotions. This is where self-compassion comes in!
  • To emphasize how much value we all have as individuals. Everyone deserves to feel heard, valued and included. To this end, I welcome comments and suggestions. Please feel free to use the provided comment box or reach out via email. I just ask you are respectful of differing views/ideas.
  • Humour – we all know the adage ‘if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry! A good bout of either is a fabulous release of oxytocin and endorphins.
  • Signposting to resources – this is a biggie! There is a wealth of untapped resources and online support out there. This blog aims to highlight as many of these as possible. Anything from simple breathing exercises to peer reviewed research is potential blog fodder!
  • Finally I will share my own experiences/helpful tips. This blog certainly isn’t an altruistic endeavour. Writing is my armour, my relief. It distracts my brain and is my go-to when things are rough. I will share my published writing here and there, but my focus is primarily to share information and avenues of support.

I will end my introduction with a poem I wrote for the charity Mind on World Kindness Day 2020. Please remember, the greatest kindness is that which you show yourself.

Someone

Someone noticed me today
They smiled and said hello
Just a small thing really
Yet it gave me such a glow

Someone held my hand today
When I was feeling sad
Suddenly I was less alone
Things were not so bad

Someone made me laugh today
We shared a joke together
The world seemed brighter for a while
A moment I will treasure

Someone gave me time today
There is no greater gift
I’d like to do the same for them
Should they ever feel adrift

Someone gave me hope today
A simple act of kindness
A smile, a hand, a laugh, just time
These little things are priceless