SOS mental health Issues - journaling

How journaling can help you manage your emotions and improve your mental health

Written by Kristina Petkova, edited by Mila Boshnakova, photos by Pixabay and Pexels

In our previous article, we explored how spirituality can help us improve our mental health, especially in hard times like these during a pandemic and limited social contact due to isolation. Mental health issues such as mild states of anxiety and stress can be influenced positively by different spiritual practices. We already saw the benefits of meditation practices and now we will dive into another spiritual technique - journaling. Bear in mind that if you are suffering from serious mental health conditions it is strongly recommended to search for professional medical help of which we have mentioned some of the services available in part one of this series. 

Emotional management during a pandemic
Being a foreigner in a new country may cause many feelings such as depression, frustration, fear, sadness, and loneliness. In the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, I notice that these feelings are ever more enhanced. Especially when it comes to challenging emotions (I purposely wouldn’t define them as negative), it is important to try to improve our emotional management skills. Have you heard of the term emotional management? This is our ability to be aware of, and constructively handle, both positive and challenging emotions. In this article, I will give you some easy journaling techniques that supported me and that, I believe, can support you on your path as well.   

Anger is an emotion that, for many years, I denied feeling. After sharing this with other people, it turned out I am not the only one. After doing different therapies (including art therapy), I realized that anger was something that was not expressed in my family when I was little. I never saw how anger can be managed in a healthy way, and that’s why I chose to deny its existence in my life. 

Although considered a negative emotion, anger can actually be very healthy for us if we know how to manage it. The first stage of anger is the moment when someone oversteps our boundaries. This is the moment when we need to communicate that to the other person and make it clear how they made us feel. Many times we are afraid to stand up for ourselves. We choose to stay silent instead, because of fear of rejection or fear that the other person will stop liking us. 

The more we stay silent, the more others will keep overstepping our boundaries, and anger starts building up inside of us. As you can imagine, one day this anger will explode; very often not towards the person who was overstepping our boundaries. If not expressed externally, this anger can lead to different diseases.

“Weak” feelings
Similar to anger, there are also other emotions and feelings that are judged by our society, and many of us don’t want to acknowledge them in order not to be seen as weak, unsuccessful, a failure, etc.

The truth is that in order to manage our emotions, we need to give them space and to accept them. Feeling anxious, scared, or depressed doesn’t make us less valuable and shouldn’t affect our self-esteem; it just makes us human. This is also very common for men who, in many societies, were raised believing that they always have to be strong and never express feelings like sadness or despair. I have talked to so many men who admit they haven’t cried for years.

Journaling - sharing my own experience
Some years ago, I was used to bottling up my emotions by not expressing them openly, thinking I would be judged or rejected by others. This unhealthy behavior soon led to some psychosomatic diseases which were drastically worsening my well-being. A therapist gave me the advice to start sharing my feelings with my close ones, but that if I find it hard, I can at least write down in my journal how I feel. This is how I discovered journaling. 

Writing helped me to improve my emotional management in 3 steps:
- firstly, to admit and name the emotion I was experiencing;
- secondly, to reflect on what caused this emotion, especially if it was very intense (most of the time we feel triggered because of our past traumas, and not the current situation);
- and finally, try to distance myself from that emotion.

Why is distance so important? Have you experienced that feeling when you are overtaken by your emotions and you have the urge to react instantly when you feel it? Psychologists recommend an easy technique - when you start feeling a strong emotion, you can count to 10 mentally, and after that, think about your reaction. Giving yourself time to calm down also allows you to see your emotion as a part of yourself but not as something that defines you. When you distance yourself, you have the choice of your response. Do you know that there is a difference between reaction and response? Reaction is when we say or do something instantly on the spot without having time to process it. Response is when we allow ourselves to process the situation and there is a time delay before we respond.

Journaling ideas

Expressing feelings and emotions - free writing practice
Next time you notice you are experiencing challenging feelings, you can try journaling using the free writing practice. It consists of 4 simple rules: use only handwriting, no software; write without stopping; don’t censor or edit; and finally, write knowing that this practice is only for you and no one else will read what you wrote. 

Here are some supporting questions for your process:
- How do I feel right now? How can I define my feeling(s)?
- What made me feel this way?
- When in the past have I felt this way? How did I handle the situation?
- What can I do right now to feel better?

Journaling can also help you realize some of your behavioral patterns and give you space to think about how you can stop repeating them. After all, we cannot solve an issue if we don’t identify and acknowledge it first. Below are two documents that can be used in conjunction with journaling to help you better process situations and your emotions.

Situation Evaluation
Structured Problem and Emotion Solving

Gratitude list
Did you know that every emotion has voltage? It is considered that love and gratitude are among the highest vibrational states you can be at - around 540 MHz. In comparison, the voltage of anger is 150 MHz, and at the bottom, there is shame and guilt with, respectively, 20 and 30 MHz. Consequently, the longer you manage to stay in higher vibrational states, the better your health will become.

You can express your gratitude in many different ways; by being present and appreciating the moment here and now, or by telling someone how thankful you are that they are present in your life. 

However, we invite you to try this simple technique. You can choose how often you can write in your journal, a gratitude list. It can be daily, weekly, or as often as you feel like. I personally do it every time I feel sad or demotivated and this practice instantly improves my mood and brings joy. 

Here are some ideas for gratitude questions:
What made me smile today?
What small pleasure did I enjoy today?
What act of kindness did I witness today?
What was one small victory I had today?

Never forget to add what you are grateful for to yourself - most of the time we forget to thank ourselves for everything we do!

Bottom line
During the pandemic, more and more people are experiencing challenging feelings and emotions. What can support us is improving our emotional management skills. In this article, we presented you the method of journaling as a useful tool to name, accept, and distance ourselves from our emotions, in order to handle them in a healthier way and improve our mental health.

Disclaimer: All information in this article is provided in good faith, however, we make no representation and warranty of any kind. This article is not, nor it is intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice.

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