- to process emotions,
- to change thinking/mindset/perspective and
- to discover your deepest heart and soul longings/yearnings.
One of the lifesaver tools for myself and for the people I work with is to implement some form of journaling …so I thought I’d share my process, what works for me and some resources and techniques you might like to try!
My Journey with Journaling
Around age 13 I began to experience what I now know to be anxiety and I had no idea how to cope. My Mum introduced to me the concept of writing down my thoughts but I was so scared to face them that I would often only write 1-2 words down or write and then destroy the bit of paper. It was around the age of 18 when I first left home and was struggling with homesickness (and what I now know to be anxiety) that I began to pour my thoughts down on to a page in my journal – somehow it helped and I tended to use this process purely to dump and process the difficult emotions and thoughts on difficult days…
This journaling practice grew to be more consistent as I left Uni and began working and travelling… A few years back I read my 1995 journal (when I was 23) and I found it to be as enjoyable as reading a riveting novel about someone else’s life!!! I could not relate to those intimate thoughts /feelings from my 23 year old self, I could barely remember that year and yet in writing were the intimate details about my inner life!
When I became a Mum at 27 and struggled with post-natal depression/anxiety the process of writing became essential to my healing. My brain felt like a messy and complicated tangle of thoughts and emotions without the ability or energy to make sense of what was happening…. Writing over time supported me to process the huge life changes that had happened in one year (I had moved interstate, met my partner, fell pregnant, bought a house and had a baby, without a support network!!!). There were so many good changes and yet years later I learnt we can still experience grief over good changes….part of our old life is lost forever even as we are carving out the new life!!
One of the most healing processes I experienced in this time was to write up the birth story of each of my children…supporting me to process each huge life transition before moving on! Another healing process was to write to the older women in my family, grandmothers and great aunts and ask them how they had processed becoming a Mum and I still treasure their written responses.
Journaling & Mindfulness
Slowly overtime I realised that I wanted to record the positives, the good moments, and what I appreciate about my family, as well as use the journaling to set goals and intentions. Developing a meditation practice and then a daily mindfulness practice, with the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course in 2011, really supported my mental health and well-being. My journaling, while still helping me to process my difficult thoughts and feelings, could also focus on and help me to notice what I was grateful for…what I appreciated, what was working in my life….helping me to switching the focus from scarcity/fear to abundance/love.
The journaling was also useful to help me track what I was learning and the benefits of mindfulness that I was experiencing. It is so easy for our mind to tell us to give up a new habit, that it’s not worth doing but somehow keeping a journal can help to reflect on the small micro-changes occurring daily that can eventually support BIG changes in a year!
Morning Pages from The Artist Way Program
A huge turning point for me was when I did the Artist Way program in 2015 and I was introduced to the concept of the Morning Pages: https://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/ Julia Cameron recommends writing 3 pages of ‘stream of consciousness’ thinking first thing in the morning…. this I have done every day since (if I don’t get a chance in the morning I can do it anytime, even last thing at night!). This is a powerful healing practice….
What are your first thoughts in the morning? Are they around planning? Are they around stress, fatigue, what needs to be done, what didn’t get done….(just paying attention to your first thoughts in the morning and how they affect your mood can be enlightening!). Julia Cameron recommends taking pen and paper and writing whatever comes into your mind first thing in the morning, a clearing out process (e.g. I’m tired, didn’t sleep well, not sure I’m up for today, sunrise looks nice, hungry, don’t have time for this, don’t know what to write…)….and what is amazing is how your writing begins to change. You purge on paper those first thoughts and then within that process a space opens up for new thoughts….’what do I want to do today, focus on, what’s really important?’, some creative ideas might pop up into your head…a new perspective might emerge, some gratitude or appreciation!!! I’ve been doing this practice now daily, since 2015, and I feel edgy when I don’t do it! It’s such a lovely way to clear your head and choose your thinking, your approach to the day!
A really important point is that in our journaling and everyday life we don’t want to bottle our emotions or brood on our emotions….instead we need to process them and then act according to our intentions and values:
Emotional agility is a process that allows you to be in the moment, changing or maintaining your behaviours so that you can live in ways that align with your intentions and values. The process isn’t about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts. It’s about holding those emotions and thoughts loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to make big things happen in your life.Susan David emotions researcher and author of Emotional Agility. Read more here: Susan David author of Emotional Agility in Interview: https://www.kylebenson.net/bottle-emotions/
When people characteristically bottle their emotions or brood, even though they look so different, those patterns of emotions are actually associated with lower levels of well-being and high levels of depression and anxiety. We also know that it impacts the quality of the relationship.
When people bottle, they are pushing aside their emotions, and their partner (or family and friends) can often feel that they aren’t present—that they aren’t being authentic or vulnerable in the relationship.
When people are brooding, their partner (or family and friends) can often feel that there is no space for anyone else in the conversation because they are so self-focused that it becomes difficult to enter into the space in a way that they feel seen.Susan David author of Emotional Agility in Interview: https://www.kylebenson.net/bottle-emotions/
The best way is to stop trying to engage in a struggle of whether you should or shouldn’t be feeling something, but rather just notice those thoughts and emotions, and do so with compassion and curiosity and courage because sometimes they are difficult emotions.Susan David author of Emotional Agility in Interview: https://www.kylebenson.net/bottle-emotions/
Susan David herself, began journaling, when early in life she experienced grief and didn’t know how to cope with it – her English teacher gave her a private journal to write in and Susan, in her book, Emotional Agility says ‘the journaling became a main source of support for me, and I soon recognised that it was helping me to describe, make sense of, and process my experiences. It didn’t make me grieve any less but it allowed me to move through the trauma. It showed me the power of facing into, rather than trying to avoid, difficult emotions and it put me onto the career path that I have followed ever since.’
There’s some fascinating research by James Pennebaker on the transformational healing power of journaling if you want to explore journaling further? https://journaling.com/articles/expressive-writing-a-tool-for-transformation-with-dr-james-pennebaker-ph-d/ He explores the use of writing to heal and transform trauma…and, under the guidance of a counsellor, I think this is a fantastic tool.
Miracle Morning S.A.V.E.R.S.
Once you have established a journaling practice you can experiment and play with what suits you! Reading the book The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod helped me to be more intentional about my journaling including at least some of these in my practice each morning and certainly trying to include all of them in the day:
- Silence (meditation)
Miracle Morning S.A.V.E.R.S: https://halelrod.com/6-minute-miracle-morning/
Writing to Divine
This article, during Covid Lockdown in 2020, by Liz Gilbert, had a huge impact on me! I had for years experimented with right hand and left hand writing, dialoguing with my inner child (please email me if you would like more information) and reading how Liz writes to her version of the Divine, the Great Mystery, really inspired me and is now part of my daily practice: https://insighttimer.com/blog/elizabeth-gilbert-fear-compassion/
So what are you keen to try? What could you do for 5-10 minutes a day for 3 weeks to see if it works for you? If you already have a journaling practice what could you experiment with, how could you tweak it, what could you add?
And of course we then have art journaling, another key practice I started in the Artist Way program, but that will have to be another blog!
Happy writing!! 🙂
If you would like more information on journaling, art journaling, counselling or coaching please email email@example.com
And I highly recommend checking out @Alex_Elle on Instagram for her healing notes to self and her Onbeing Podcast https://onbeing.org/programs/alex-elle-self-care-as-generational-healing/ on more writing to heal!!
Other resources on journaling to heal that I have loved reading are:
- Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin
- Menopause the Inner Journey by Susanne Fincher