After taking deep breathes and pausing to do nothing but just be here in the now, writing may be the most underused but easily accessible self-help tool.
I now write regularly. It started in mid Jan 2106, while in a really dark period of depression. I had read many articles and books which exonerated the health benefits of daily journaling or keeping a diary. That also tied in with a brief spell of telephone counselling I was receiving, prior to starting therapy properly. (That sounds unfair on the counselling, it helped initially.) During a couple of the sessions we talked about keeping a daily record and also a letter writing exercise we’ll come to later. I never considered myself to be creative, although some readers of my project reports in my previous working life may not agree!
It is one of the gifts that depression has given me. The time to allow something creative to flourish and that creativity is important for my recovery and overall mental health. It lead me to writing this blog.
Finding that time, away from distractions is important.
Hints and tips to writing each day.
There are hundreds of articles stating the best way of journaling – bullet journals, gratitude journals, ideas journals, mindfulness journals, the key actions for the day journal, the “what the heck happened today” journal (okay, last one made up but that’s is often what my end of day entries look like).
I tried a few different methods of journalling and refined down to what works and helps me. I took several elements of the various guides and made my own – let’s face it this is my journal and no-one else will read it. It’s helped to record my recovery and management of depression, it’s useful to look back to see how different days went, including low mode triggers and triggers for dancing around the house with music on full volume.
For me nothing beats writing on paper. There is a joy of starting a new notebook and it’s so useful to look back at previous entries. You could use an electronic journal or note application but it’s been shown that typing doesn’t support the flow of thoughts like writing does. I do like a hardback notebook with simple lined paper, there are loads of inexpensive ones available. I often write using a fountain pen, it helps to write just a fraction slower, which I find helps my thought process. I now have a few notebooks on the go, which serve different purposes.
- daily journal- the main one, with an aim to write at start and end of each day. It’s whatever I am thinking about. It’s changed format a few times, I used to write down self-care actions in it, but that became too much of a list and if I didn’t do them all it felt like the day was a failure.
- writing journal – all my blog and writing ideas – helps to keep separate from the daily writing, although a lot comes from reading through the daily journal
- quote journal – quotes from books, articles, films, social media, wherever I see or hear something I think is interesting, thought provoking or inspirational. Initially I wrote these in the daily journal but they got lost, plus it helps to sometimes just read through them as a collection
There is lot’s of advice out there….if you’ll indulge me here are my personal top ten hits:
- You are writing for yourself and no-one else…so be honest and open.
- Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or how bad the writing gets – just write
- Try writing for about ten minutes when you first get up. Your brain has been working all night, you may be surprised what it’s worked out while you’ve been asleep
- In the morning think about the one thing that you would like to be writing about having done by the evening – it can be big or small. Just the one thing which would mean something to you. Doesn’t matter if you achieve a hundred other things or just this one…it’s this one that is important to you.
- Don’t create lists of to do’s – you won’t do them all and they don’t give you the purpose that number 4 does. I find all they do is add pressure and feel bad when I haven’t done them all
- Write down the one value you would like to really help you with your day. For example, one of my values is being a patient parent, which I strive to be but often get impatient. So if I know there is something happening that day which may test this value, then I may write “In all my interactions with my teenage children I will be patient and calm”…obviously an easy one to achieve !
- Write down one thing you are grateful for, as you look ahead to the day. Doesn’t have to a big, life affirming thing. For example, it could be “I am grateful that last night I didn’t fall out of bed again” (medication side effect!)
- In the evening have a look back over your day. Did you do that one thing from 4? If not, consider kindly what was it that prevented it? If you achieved it how did that feel?
- Look back the day at times when you feel like you didn’t act in line with your values e.g. You got angry at something when you didn’t mean to -what can you learn from that. Then think about when you did align with your values e.g. you made an error and spoke with a compassionate voice to yourself. Celebrate it.
- Write down anything that you noticed that was funny, different or interesting. Could be a funny story, could be a tree that you noticed for the first time…doesn’t really matter, it’s helping you to be more present during the day.
The big point is this – just write however it helps you and as a daily habit. And if you miss a day or two – that’s okay, this is for you.
Lastly, here is another writing thing you may want to try, which I got from a counselling session. I was dubious about this, but on reflection it helped to focus and discover a few things about things that were bothering me.
Think about something or even someone that is causing you worry or stress and write a letter to it or them. Just like the journal this is for you, not anyone else to read. Here is the key part – write a line about every emotion you associate with it, both positive and negative. Can be useful to use a list of emotions (this post has suggestions). Let me share an example based on a course I am just starting :
I am excited to be starting this course as I think it will be really helpful to me. I am excited to be meeting a group of people who are in similar position and working through the course together.
I am anxious as I haven’t met anyone on the course and we might not get on together. I am anxious that I haven’t been to the place where the course is being held. I am anxious that I am putting too much expectation on the course and it will be a disappointment.
I am happy that the course is starting and that it’s local to where I am. I am happy that the basics I have learnt on mindfulness will be improved through the course teaching…..”
You get the idea I hope. It’s a simple way to discover many aspects to something you hadn’t considered. I find once you start a lot comes out. You can then start to perhaps address some of the points… in the example above I went to the course location earlier in the week, to see where it was.
Hope the post has given you some thoughts or hints that may help you, writing really can help with the chaos of thoughts, worries and dreams our minds are made up of.
Enjoy your scribbling, it will help.