Affect Regulation · The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Journaling 101

journalingTo write in a journal or not to write in a journal, that is the question. Do you dread writing down your deepest thoughts for fear someone might find your journal and read it? If so, you are exactly like most people! I’d like to share a strategy that will respect your privacy while also facilitating the hugely therapeutic process of journaling. I recognize that writing isn’t for everyone, and that it’s important to find what works for you.

The Reason to Write: Emotional Coping

The bubbling up of strong emotions tends to leave people feeling out of control, over-whelmed, and flooded. During these moments, one’s immediate reaction may be to shut down the emotions causing them to feel that way. We do this in all kinds of ways – some healthy and some super unhealthy. Coping well, and healing from trauma, is about being with the emotions and the message those emotions are providing in a more conscious and titrated way. Writing those heavy thoughts down is one way to get them out of your head, see them more objectively, and process some of the emotion connected to them.

Always use Two Journals

Journal 1 – The Dumping Journal
Your dumping journal can be any notepad or piece of paper. What you write on isn’t important, because once you dump the thoughts, you will be destroying the page. A dumping journal can be used to work through strong emotions, such as anxiety, anger, and grief. When you feel the pull of strong emotions, write about it. Literally dump it from your head onto the page – write it, draw it, scribble it, paint it. Write about the situation and about what’s stirring up for you.

Tip: If you sit down to journal and no words are coming – keep writing. Put your pen to paper and just write anything that comes to you. Within a few minutes the flow of thought will start to pour out onto the page.

This journal is called a dumping journal because we dump out the nagging emotions and thoughts onto page. Once complete, feel free to review what you have written, and then destroy the page. Shred it, burn it (safely) – ensure there is no record. The therapy isn’t in keeping what you write down, it’s about getting it out of your head and onto paper so you can work through it. The dumping journal isn’t to be kept because it’s not a reflection of who you truly are – it’s the angry, sad, traumatized, frightened, disorganized, annoyed, and vulnerable parts of you that are simply finding a voice. Each page gets destroyed after it’s been created in order to maintain the privacy of your healing process.

Journal 2 – The Healing Journal
The healing journal is the one that you will keep, so take some time to find a beautiful book to use. On any given day you may want to look back through this journal for strength, motivation, and a reminder of what sustains you. The healing journal is the one that you will to use to document all the good stuff. Some examples include:

  • a technique you learned that helps you cope,
  • something about life you learned that impacted you,
  • an “aha” moment,
  • things you are grateful for,
  • positive memories and photos,
  • the best fortune cookie message you ever received,
  • anything that reminds you of your strength, perseverance, and worth.

Here is how it works:

Whenever you have finished writing in your dumping journal, turn to the healing journal and write something positive. Turn towards gratitude, acknowledge your worth, connect with your peaceful place. Perhaps what you want to do differently tomorrow, or something that sustains you, or motivates you, or all the examples from your past that have demonstrated your ability to persist.

If you have written or processed something pretty heavy in the dumping journal, you may want to do something symbolic that represents a clear division between processing hurts and daily life. Taking a shower or washing your hands can be symbolic of washing it away, have a cup of tea do 10 burpees – whatever works to better enable your brain to recognize the dumping is complete and you are now letting go and returning to the present moment.

Tip: If you journal at bedtime, and then have difficulty settling the thoughts as you try to fall asleep, gently remind yourself that you have already “done the work” for the day and that it’s now your ‘time off’. Pull your peaceful place image back in as often as needed, or use a bedtime story app such as Calm.com to settle in for sleep.

Additional Resources to Inspire Journaling

Rhonda Brynes talks about writing 10 things for which you feel grateful for each day, in her book titled “The Magic”

Kristen Neff talks about journalling to build self-compassion 

The Process of Therapy

A Spoonful of Sugar helps the Medicine go Down

(A Life Hack worth Knowing!)

A lot can be accomplished in a 50 minute counselling session. In order to keep the momentum of progress in healing, it is important to take some time to reflect on the session rather than shutting it out once you leave the safety of the counselling room and re-enter the busy-ness of daily life. For this reason, Counsellors often suggest “homework” to clients: small things a person can do between sessions that will help them to stay connected with their healing journey.

This is especially true when I am working with folks experiencing symptoms of anxiety. The “homework” I give is often about getting grounded in the present moment: a healthful way to cope with the strong emotions. We now live in an age where there are apps readily available to help with this. While many of these apps are fantastic, some cost money, and some are a little confusing to use. I’d like to share a strategy that I stumbled into – which is both free and user-friendly!

Many people use Instagram to stay connected with friends. However, what if every time you opened Instagram, you were flooded with beautiful words, uplifting images, motivational quotes, and messages of hope? It truly is that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down – in this case, the medicine is acceptance of the trials and tribulations that we as humans are bound to come face-to-face with at some point, and the sugar is our ability to cope with it – or ride the waves of strong emotion.

Want to give it a go? Here are 3 simple steps to get started:

  1. Create an Instagram account (skip this step if you already have one)
  2. Use the search button to add as many people and businesses as you can that reflect positivity. You may need to do a bit of research here, and don’t feel bad about removing someone if you discover they aren’t posting the positivity you had hoped for.
  3. Open the app daily and scroll through the posts to get your daily dose of happy!

Here are some examples to get you started:

  • dailyom (Mindfulness quotes)
  • brenebrown (Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection)
  • eckharttolle (Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher)
  • donmiguelruiz (Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements)
  • beherenownetwork (mindfulness quotes)
  • thichnhathanh.bot (Thich Nhat Hanh Quotes)
  • jack_kornfield (Jack Kornfield, (author, Buddhist Practitioner)
  • happy_maven (mindfulness and positive psychology quotes, therapy dog)
  • puppology (photos of dogs that, if you like dogs, is sure to make you smile!)
  • tarabrach (Tara Brach, psychologist and mindfulness teacher)
  • mygrateful.life (gratitude and mindfulness quotes)
  • insightla (mindfulness quotes)
  • drdansiegel (Daniel Siegel, psychiatrist, author, mindfulness teacher)
  • drpeterlevine (Peter Levine, author, somatic experiencing teacher)
  • stevefarber (motivational speaker)
  • melrobbinslive (motivational speaker)
  • theellenshow (Ellen Degeneres)
  • calm (mindfulness quotes)

Have more to add? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Credits:
– “A spoonful of sugar” quote – Mary Poppins
– Instagram image – Thich Nhat Hanh
– Instagram image – Jack Kornfield
– Instagram image – Dailyom

Vernon Community School

Spending Time with the Green-eyed Monster

(A.K.A. Jealousy and Envy)

In January, my class with the VCS focused on jealousy and envy. We explored the differences between the two, and the messages each brings (using the work of Karla McLaren). We explored the concepts in the context of a real life scenario – which lead to some interesting discussion and ideas! We ended the class with a boundary exercise designed to 1) ground students when the strong emotions come on, and 2) create a boundary (felt-sense of safety) in order to work through the emotion.

Jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably. While they do have similar messages, they are actually different emotional states. After exploring a few different resources, including the dictionary, I found the following statement helpful in determining the difference between the two:

“You can feel envy about something you don’t have but want, but you feel jealousy over something you already have and are afraid of losing” (McLaren, 2010).

Some important points to remember here:

  • there are no good vs. bad emotions
  • all our emotions arise to give us powerful messages
  • we can learn to tune in, and listen to those messages
  • we can learn to notice the felt-sense of the emotion
  • when we can be with our emotions (and not fear them) we tend to feel more balanced

Both jealousy and envy include anger and fear, and both can leave us feeling inadequate. The message in them often pertains to our intuition (we are sensing that something isn’t right), and self-protection (we are not feeling safe, and have an intrinsic desire to return to state of safety). Now, with strong emotions arising, we typically have three courses of action:

  1. Suppress it: When we do not feel comfortable with our emotions, we tend to stuff them and put on a happy face. It doesn’t feel right though, and we know we are not being true to ourselves. And to make matters worse, when we suppress our emotions, they tend to find their way out in unhealthy ways.
  2. Express it: Sounds good, right? Not really – when we express our emotions in their mood state, we tend to say hurtful things. Things that later make us feel shameful for saying, and really only have a negative impact on our relationships.
  3. Understand why the jealousy or envy came up, and work through the emotions that came flooding forward. While this may seem like the hardest option, it is also the one that brings with it greater self-awareness and an opportunity for regulation.

Practice 4: Grounding with a Boundary for Jealousy

The technique we used for regulation was a boundary exercise from Karla McLaren. While I cannot provide the entire write-up here, I’d love to share some point-form prompts, to help you stay on track with your practice.

  • Allow yourself to settle into your chair, noticing the warmth of your breath in, and out. Notice solid floor beneath you, imagine the warmth of  your breath moving down, right into the ground. Take a moment to notice what’s going on in your body; just be curious about what you are sensing, and without trying to change it. If you notice any tension or emotional upset, notice where in your body you feel it. Notice what it’s about for a moment, then imagine directing it downward into the earth. Letting your breath envelop it, and see if the tension eases up a little
  • Take a moment to image a protective boundary around you. What colour would it be
  • Notice that connection between your feet and the ground. What sensations are arising in your body? How does it feel to set a boundary for self?
  • Jealousy contains anger. It feels fiery, flaring and intense or simmering and steaming.  If we move it into the boundary – outside yourself so you can make sense of the message it is giving you – then you can reclaim your personal space and connect with a sense of calm.
  • Visualizing the boundary helps us make sense of the anger that accompanies jealousy, so that we can make sense of what it is really telling us
  • Emotions want us to take action: but if you try to take action before you restore your boundary, you will likely over-compensate (explode) or under-compensate (and collapse and suppress)
  • Noticing your breath in, the warmth of your breath as you inhale and slowly exhale
  • When you think of feeling jealousy, what is the message in the emotion? What has been betrayed? Examine your own sense of worthiness and security – what needs to be healed, secured? The goal is to return to a sense of feeling emotionally resourced, rather than powerless.
  • Sensing into that connection between your feet and the ground. Just know you can call upon the visualization of your boundary anytime, to slow down and settle strong emotions, and return to balance.

All of our emotions bring with them important messages. If we tune in and listen, we can hear that message and respond appropriately. I hope that is what students are able to take away from these classes – the ability to notice their emotions, tune in for the message, settle strong emotional upset in healthy ways, and learn to respond to those emotions, and thus to others, in healthy ways

References:

McLaren, K (2010). The Language of Emotions: What your feelings are trying to tell you.

Affect Regulation

What is Affect Regulation?

Affect regulation strategies include developing the tools and resources necessary to recognize, observe, modulate, and cope with affects you may be experiencing (affect is another word for emotion). In developing these tools and skills, you will be better able to cope with disturbing emotions as they arise (such as grief, anxiety, anger, fear, frustration, etc.).

Developing the ability to regulate affect begins with learning to identify emotional sensations within your body.

Containment strategies are useful techniques to regulate affect because they can be effectively used to control intrusive trauma memories and images (flashbacks), and disturbing physiological sensations. These overwhelming memories, images, sensations, feelings, or thoughts can sometimes lead to harmful behaviour, making it extremely difficult for you to focus on healing. Learning effective containment skills can empower you and reassure you during difficult times. The term containment is not used here to refer to “stuffing” or ignoring your experiencing. Just the opposite, in fact. It’s about acknowledging the incredible power the distressing memories have, and creating the safe internal place from which to work through them. In her book “Healing from Trauma”, Jasmine Lee Cori describes it as “to contain something is to hold it, to create a place for it, in some ways to protect it”.

“With containment… we learn to discriminate how much (emotion) we an handle at  any given moment without overload. We understand that the point is to keep the feelings from getting so intense that they burn us. We learn to contain a feeling so that it doesn’t run roughshod over us but instead is given a place and listened to” — Jasmine Lee Cori

Because every person is unique, there may be some affect regulation strategies that work well for you and others that do not. Try the strategies that sound interesting to you, approaching them with an open mind and a curious attitude. Try each strategy you select over a couple of days, and write in your journal what the strategy was like for you.

Resources:

Cori, J. L. (2008). Healing from Trauma, A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding your Symptoms and Reclaiming your Life.

Haskell, L. (2003). First Stage Trauma Treatment: A guide for mental health professionals working with women.