Journaling: A Wellness Tool During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shifted how we spend our time. Any routines that were a part of your life, have likely shifted to accomodate new work and social restrictions. Debrah Lee, Veterinary Wellbeing Program Director, discusses how writing requires intentional thoughts, and brings awareness to feelings and experiences.

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An unexpected outcome of this pandemic has been that it’s changed my days off. This weekend, the general sense of unease that has settled in since the pandemic began was accompanied by something else. Up until a month ago, my time off was usually reserved for the weekly grocery run, chores at home, leisurely walks, and time to recharge. This weekend, the time seemed to stretch and felt all that much longer with the gradually lengthening daylight hours. I kept feeling a bit lost – like there was something that I needed to do or should do.

One contributing factor to this change that I’m coming to acknowledge is that I’m experiencing a profound sense of loss. This loss is pervasive, and I think that we are all experiencing many losses in our lives right now – the loss of normalcy, expectations, and sense of security to name a few. Many of the small tasks and routines that I built into my day are gone and my social anchors are missing. Sometimes, in the immediate aftermath of loss, our thoughts and feelings take time to catch up to us. Other times, something we have already acknowledged can hit us in a different way. For me, this past weekend was an example of that.

The losses that we are experiencing leads me to reflect on grief. Grief is a natural, healthy, spontaneous, emotional, healing process following a significant loss. It is a unique experience for every individual. It ebbs and flows with physical, emotional, and social responses that change in intensity and duration, and it is informed by our experiences with previous losses. There is no timeline for grief, and in the process of allowing grief to unfold, I’ve also seen it’s possible to regain balance and re-engage with life in a meaningful way. To work through grief is to also allow our self-awareness to develop, acknowledge, and work through that ebb and flow between the experience of loss and restoration.

 

Journaling

Journaling is an intentional practice that can support building awareness of our thoughts and feelings. In addition to providing a space for self-reflection, the act of writing is helpful in building emotional self-regulation. Writing requires us to slow down enough to synthesize our thoughts – importantly those driven by intense feelings – into words. This intentional act helps move the body away from its reactionary stress response system. It can help you stay present while keeping perspective.

A few ways that I have recommended to journal in the past include:

  • A Worry Journal: Our worries often get stuck around concerns that are outside our influence. Take a few minutes to write your worries down as a list. For each item, identify if the worry is something that you can or cannot influence.
    • If it is something that you can influence, determine if you can do something about it right now. If you can do something right now, then do it.
    • If you can’t influence it, write a plan for what you will do to address the worry in the future and let it go. If the worry is something that is beyond your control, acknowledge it and let it go.

It can be helpful to have the worry decision tree next to you as you work through this and it’s best to not work on the worry journal right before bed.

 

  • Daily Gratitude Practice: Spend time noticing and reflecting on the things that you’re thankful for to help further increase positive emotions. One benefit of this daily practice is that it can often help you look for experiences that prompt gratitude throughout the day. Gratitude does not have to be reserved for momentous occasions, it can also reflect the smaller joys in your life (e.g. the smell of lilacs on your neighborhood walk or that your French fries were crispy and not soggy).

 

  • Use a Prompt: There are a number of examples of journal prompts that you can find online. They may be designed to lead you towards a particular intention – e.g. journal prompts for self-discovery.
    • A couple simple prompts that may be helpful while trying this practice includes, “One good thing about today…” or “A sound that made me feel good today…”
    • For grief, a few prompts to consider include:
      • “Today, I am really missing…,”
      • “Today I am having a hard time with…,”
      • “The hardest time of day is…,”
      • “I am ready to feel…”

There are many ways to journal. Writing can take the form of a longer narrative or a bullet point list. It can be a daily practice, a check in a few days a week, or a strategy to turn to when managing strong emotions. It can be five minutes or twenty minutes but for however long it may be, journaling is a supportive tool to help us to build awareness of our thoughts and feelings while growing from our experiences.

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