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

Three Little Things: Journaling to build Self-Worth

One key way we build self-esteem is by accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves. Every accomplished goal trickles into our sense self: it feeds our personal integrity, that sense of trust we have in ourselves that we will do what we set out to do. Our proven ability, even though only proven to ourselves, contributes to feeling good about ourselves. But what happens when a negative core belief such as “I’m not good enough” has a stronghold over our thoughts?

Negative core beliefs are false self-referencing beliefs, and they pack a pretty heavy punch. When a negative belief screams out in our brain, a powerful emotional response reverberates throughout our memory network and our body responds with much the same level of activation as when the negative belief was created – even though in the present moment we are safe. Experiences from childhood may have planted the seeds of the negative belief, and then additional life experiences may have strengthened them. Because these negative beliefs have been reinforced over and over again, they feel very true. “Negative beliefs come to create a perpetual filter through which we view ourselves and our world” (Parnell, 2007).

Negative core beliefs feel true but they are not true. Because these beliefs are capable of infiltrating all of our daily activities, social interactions, and inner dialogue, we need an equally powerful method for countering them. Counselling is an excellent way to heal early wounds and develop coping strategies for the present. There are also techniques we can focus on between sessions to practice being present with new, positive belief systems.

journal for self-worthThree Little Things: 

For this journaling activity, you are going to want to use a beautiful book: one that makes you smile when you look at. You won’t be journaling in the traditional style: this will be more of a ‘healing journal’, one that you are going to want to flip through often, to remind yourself of what you have written.

Each evening before you get ready for bed, take 10 minutes to sit down and reflect on 3 things you did well that day. These are the little things that we often over-look, that there are no accolades for. When we take the time to notice, we develop compassion for our selves. We start to see the evidence that yes, we are human and we make mistakes, but also that we are also inherently good and worthwhile beings. If you find that you are having trouble getting started, try reflecting on the list of prompts below.

Writing Prompts for Reflection:

  • What did I do well today?
  • How did I cope successfully with a triggering moment today?
  • How did I care for myself with loving kindness after a triggering moment?
  • What am I grateful for today
  • How did I demonstrate gratitude today?
  • How did I implement something I’ve been learning today?
  • How did I show kindness today?
  • How did I show up with courage in my life today?
  • How did I practice self-acceptance, or self-forgiveness today?
  • What daily goal did I follow through on today?
  • How did I live with intention today?

For more strategies on journaling to build self-compassion (and a really good read…) check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website: self-compassion.org.

Resources:
Parnell, L. (2007). A Therapist’s Guide to EMDR: Tools and Techniques for Successful Treatment. New York NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Affect Regulation

Help for Insomnia: Creating a Bedtime Routine

sleepA good nights sleep (and more importantly, consecutive nights of getting good sleep!) is incredibly important, yet it is something as adults we rarely give much attention to. Our brains need sleep in order to function properly and regulate emotion effectively. Learning is easier when we sleep well, and so is decision making. Even coping with change becomes more manageable when our brains have been rested! Jim White (2000) writes,

“Poor sleeping fails to recharge the individual’s batteries. Thus, during the next day, the individual is less able to fight the effects of stress. Stress then feeds the sleep problems the following night and a vicious cycle has developed. Over a period of weeks or months, the individual’s ability to cope slowly declines. Learning how to improve the quality and quantity of sleep will leave the individual in a better state to fight daytime stress. Fighting daytime stress will help the individual overcome sleep problems. A positive cycle has replaced the vicious cycle.”

Read on to learn ideas on creating and implementing a bedtime routine that soothes. Every person is unique, so please do add/edit/modify as necessary to fit your own life better.

It is important to create a bedtime routine that you can be consistent with each night, regardless of the time you go to bed. Anytime we try out a new routine, I always suggest to try following it consistently for 21 days – simply because evidence does suggest that the more frequently we do something, the more likely it is to become instinctual. So in other words, the more a behaviour is repeated, the more likely it will become a part of your routine.

The following is a list of ideas for creating a soothing bedtime routine. No need to incorporate all of them – select the ones that fit for you and your life, and then create your own routine!

  1. Start the bedtime routine about 30 minutes prior to the time you want to be in bed
  2. Take a shower, or even just wash your face/hands – doing so is symbolic of washing the remnants of the day away
  3. Make a cup of decaf tea for yourself, or have a glass of water
  4. Sit down (but not in bed), and take a few minutes to write out any left-over thoughts that are troubling you. Troubling thoughts could go in to a ‘dumping journal’ – which is never kept but instead each entry destroyed in order to create closure, a sense of letting go, and to ensure your privacy. The thoughts that go into the dumping journal are often the angry, sad, or fearful thoughts that you wouldn’t want to look back on.
  5. End with a positive note: use another journal (one that you want to keep and look back on) to finish on a positive note. You could write anything in this one – something you hope for the next day, what you did well this day, what you have learned that you want to remember, something someone did for you that was kind, etc. You could also fill it with beautiful pictures, sayings that are important to you, and so forth. This is the journal that lifts you up and leaves you smiling.
  6. Put the journal away – you have given attention to those troubling thoughts and devised a plan for the next day, so you can be finished looking at those troubling thoughts for the night now
  7. Read.  Not a murder mystery, and not a book that will take a lot of analytical thinking. Try a frivolous read – doing so can help you start to settle.
  8. Still not feeling settled? Lay down in bed and try listening to a meditation for relaxing. Jon Kabat-Zinn (mindfulness meditation) and Paul McKenna (guided hypnosis) have excellent recorded meditations – but there are many other options.

If you find your mind wandering towards troublesome thoughts while you are listening to the meditation, try to bring your awareness back to the meditation, with gentle kindness towards yourself. You are learning something new, after all – and that can take time. If you find that troublesome thoughts are overpowering, you can no longer focus, or if fear is mounting rapidly, get out of bed. Once you are out of bed, return to your sitting place and write or scribble those thoughts into the dumping journal. If you live with someone caring, try talking with them. Afterwards, remind yourself that although looking at these troublesome thoughts is helpful, it is not helpful to ruminate on them at bedtime. You have given some attention to them and you will attend more to them tomorrow!

References:

Jim White (2000). Treating Anxiety and Stress

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Guided Mindfulness
Meditation http://www.mindfulnesscds.com/collections/all-1/products/series-4

Paul McKenna
http://www.paulmckenna.com/sleep