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.

Take a mindful moment…

Mindfulness | University Health Service (2021)

“Scream if you wanna go faster!”

Does your mind often resemble a chaotic theme park? Are you thoughts jumping on every white knuckle ride available, leaving you nauseous and dizzy? Is there are huge cinema screen in the middle showing reels of your past you would rather forget?

Sounds horrendous right? I imagine even the most hardcore adrenaline junkie would think twice about visiting! Unfortunately, due to the way our minds work we often find ourselves stuck there.

So what can we do when our thoughts are racing and overwhelming us? How can we cope with painful memories forcing their way in uninvited? Is mindfulness the answer?

We are always thinking. Experts suggest we have between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day! Not a problem if our thoughts are all sunshine and roses. Of course that isn’t the case.

How does living in the moment help us?

Well, thoughts focused on past events, particularly things that have caused stress, pain or embarrassment can cause low mood. Focusing too much on the future, or rather how we anticipate the future to be can exacerbate anxiety. Therefore, the most mindful place for our thoughts to be is in the here and now.

While this makes sense, it is easier said than done. Mindfulness needs to be practiced regularly to be of benefit. Many people don’t get on with it at all. Like every aspect of mental health and wellbeing, it will unique to the individual. Finding what works for you is key!

“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience” Jon Kabat-Zin

Just Breathe

Let us take a mindful moment,
As life rushes all around.
To discover that in the here and now,
There is a peace that can be found.

Gaze upon the world as though,
You have never looked before.
Absorbing all the beauty,
With childlike wonder and awe.

Consider the presence of others,
As an army of ants’ troop by.
Passing through each second,
Without need to question why.

Listen to summer’s soundtrack,
Birdsong, joy, and laughter.
The perfection of a moment,
No care for what comes after.

The comfort found in burrowing down,
In a warm, familiar bed.
Bask in the arms of a loved one,
As they place a soft kiss on your head.

Crunchy leaves beneath your feet,
The temptation of untouched snow.
New hope and life that arrives with spring,
A summer’s evening glow.

The enticing smell of bacon,
A crisp glass of fizz in the sun.
Pure happiness spoken in a dog’s wagging tail,
Satisfaction of a job well done.

All these things and so many more,
Will take you away for a while.
Allow yourself to notice,
Allow yourself to smile.

So, when life is weighing you down,
Stop for a moment, just breathe.
Use all your senses to take in the world,
Till inner peace is achieved. 	                              © Jennifer Dodd 2020


USEFUL RESOURCES

If you are distress and need someone to talk to please reach out for support. The Samaritans – phone 116 123 http://www.samaritans.org MIND – http://www.mind.org.uk Mental Health Matters – http://www.mhm.org.uk

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