Episode 92: Journaling for Mental Wellness with Shivani Gupta

Shivani Gupta

Welcome to the AskShivani podcast. Today, we are going to be talking about one of the key strategies that you can use in being able to improve your mental wellness. Now, mental wellness is something that's really important. Mental health, we often need some external help. Mental wellness is an area that we can actually start to do some small things to improve our well-being from a mental perspective ourselves. And the thing that I want to focus on today is talking about journaling. Now, the idea of journaling and writing things down have been around for a long time, yet most of us don't do it. And so, what are the benefits? How does it work? And what could it actually do for you? So, I want to talk about some of the benefits that are around for journaling. And the first thing that I want to talk about is the fact that believe it or not, it can actually help you reduce stress. Well, how does journaling help you reduce stress?

Well, there is an amazing author called Amy Hoyt, she is a doctor and is the founder of Mending Trauma. And one of the things that she speaks about is that journaling can often add like a bit of a release valve, it can often act as a bit of a letting out that overwhelm on paper, and making sure that whatever's going on internally that you can actually pass out as well. There have also been quite a few studies that have been done, where in the healthcare system, they've looked at patients and families, and they've also looked at children's hospitals. And one of the things that they've done is measure the amount of stress that people had pre-journaling versus post-journaling. And some of the things in that that often help you reduce stress or move from that overwhelming anxious state to be able to be calmer and a little bit less anxious state is writing down things that you wish for. Because sometimes in our life, we want something to happen. And when they don't happen, we feel pretty disconnected, we feel it feel a little bit like well, you know, what's the point, I'm not going to be able to do that. So even putting your desires down in a journal comes in really handy. And then the research has shown that that helps us do that. The other thing that really helps, is writing down what's actually happening for you. So, what's happening for you, that's really overwhelming you. And it doesn't mean that it's going to be judged by anybody else, it might be a small thing, it might be an argument with a spouse or a child, it may be something that it worked that somebody didn't treat you very well at a meeting.

So, what is it that's really overwhelming that's causing that stress for you, and can you write about it, and to be able to do that. And the third thing, often, you can then also write about some things that you're grateful for. So, when we feel like that there is a bit of a lag, if we start to write down things and focus on what we do have things that we can control things that were already in our life, that also then starts to reduce some stress. So, if I can relate this to my own personal example, one of the things that I notice is that when there's a lot of overwhelm going on for me, I tend to you know, just feel a bit overwhelmed with everything that's going on. And then I sit in that story in my head. And that causes me a sleepless night that causes me to impact in terms of really being present in my family, as well as my work around what I do. So, I tend to use journaling, I journal every day. And I always say to people, if I'm mentoring them, don't try and journal for, you know, minutes or hours at a time like some people say, Oh, it's amazing. If your journal for you know, two hours a week, well, that's too much, I would just start off with a One Minute Journal, just literally have a diary next to you, or once a day set up the practice of journaling for one, one minute a day. And you might just say, this is what happened to that and just get out what's been stressing you for that particular day.

So, in my experience of starting from a one-minute practice-led, and now into a 10-minute-a-day practice. Sometimes the first 5, 6, 7 or 8 minutes of my journal are just very petty, annoying, there are horrible things that have really been stressing me out. And one of the things I do is then just get that out. And it might be something somebody did, it might be one of my kids whom I love dearly, but they really annoyed me in that instance. And I just get it out of my system. So, I use journaling as a process to process some of those emotions, which helps me reduce my stress, that helps me reduce my overwhelm. And I don't even sometimes get to the gratitude to the last couple of minutes. Other days are better where I can do some not so nice things that are happening in my head, get them out on some journaling, and then I can get to some gratitude. So, you could do it either for gratitude or the wishes that you have and what's overwhelming you. But again, research shows that it actually reduces a lot of your stress.

The second thing I want to talk about is the fact that journaling can actually boost your health and, and well being. And when we start to go well what does that mean? And again, there's some research that's been done particularly in 2018 and 2019, just pre the pandemic, which talked about the fact that when you've written your deepest thoughts. And this research shows that when you write and you did some journaling, they measured this across a few 100 people. And they realized that the people that were doing lots of visits to the doctors actually had fewer stress-related visits to the doctor, once they started to journal. The other thing that it did was that they measured that the blood pressure was reduced over this study in terms of being able to do that. And there are various studies have been done on this. The other thing was an improved mood.

So, you generally felt a little bit better getting stuff out again, off your mind. And so it really contributed to that. And you know, to your wellbeing as well. In addition to this particular study, there was another study that was done with almost 100 adults, where they basically found the fact that when they looked at anxiety, their anxiety, over 12 weeks of measuring their daily journaling practice, actually help them reduce the distress, and also increase their wellbeing. So have a look at that. There are a lot of studies around if you ever have any questions, my website is called https://www.askshivani.com/ . And I can always send you the links to be able to talk about that.

The third thing I want to talk about in terms of the benefits of journaling, is that what journaling does, it lets us escape a little bit from what I call this negative spiral. So when I go, you know, this thing isn't working. And then I think about something else is not working. And a little bit like a whirlwind. Like, I just find I've got this negative spiral going in. And one negative thought then leads to another negative thought, and then I feel like a bit hopeless and nothing's working. And then I can get into this really overwhelm. And I find that for a lot of the clients that I work with as well. And so, when negative thoughts arise, and when negative worries arise, rather than sitting in those stories, one of the things that researchers found is that you could just write them down, there is a clinical psychologist in New York, and her name is Dr. Sabrina Romanoff. And one of the things she speaks about is the fact that when you create some distance and a little bit of space, from what's happening, you start to look at things a little bit more objectively, rather than sitting in those stories. And, you know, technically, like a lot of clinical psychologists would speak about that distancing is called cognitive diffusion. So you're diffusing the issue like diffusing a bomb, but you're diffusing this issue that's happening just by taking a little bit of space. And going, Okay, I'm just going to write about that. And also, this notion of the fact that this thing is happening, but it's not all of me.

So, for example, you know, when something not so great is happening, to be able to look at that situation and go, Well, this is not great. What's happening here is not great, but it's happening at work. This is not all of me, it's happening in my workplace. And you can try to segment those certain areas in terms of what you are doing. The other thing, for example, is if you've got a physical injury, right, I know, for example, I broke my ankle last year, and it was very frustrating for me, I was in a moundbird. But I also had to have crutches for five weeks, and I was very dependent on my family. And for somebody who's a very independent woman, in all aspects of my life, I found that very, very difficult. So even I just use it to compartmentalize and say, like, isn't it great that I didn't have an accident, but all my bones are broken, like my ankle is not doing so well. But everything else in my body is doing really well. And again, putting some of that distance and having that diffusion and rather than focusing on one particular thing. And so, you know, separating that and I'm probably delving a little bit into meditation here, but one of the things in meditation that we speak about is being the observer.

So what that means is, when you're an observer, it's almost like you are watching yourself as a fly on the wall, or as an object to looking at it from a third perspective and going, Wow, isn't that interesting that I'm having these thoughts? Isn't it interesting, I'm behaving this way. So, one of the things that they talk about cognitive diffusion is also this ability to be able to go, Look, I'm having this thought, right? And this thought is this. So, my separating your thoughts to yourself, and saying, hey, I'm having this horrible thought about my partner on this horrible thought about my boss, I'm having this horrible thought that I really literally want to punch somebody in the face. So just always writing about that thought. And knowing that that is a thought you have and knew not every piece of your thought and separating that can also help with that diffusion part.

The other part is that, as I spoke about a bit earlier, but it really helps you process emotions. So, one of the things is with our feelings is, you know, for many of us, we have lived in culture, we have lived in family, we've lived in organizations, where talking about your feelings openly was not welcomed. And that if you spoke about it openly, then you would either be judged, perhaps even being punished or isolated. There was a lot of consequences for sharing your feelings. And often they weren't very positive consequences. They were quite negative consequences. And that itself might expose some trauma in terms of what you do and and how you behave. So, we are over time learn to shut our feelings off. And so being able to express our feelings without worrying about anybody else's reaction without fear of judgment of what somebody would say, without causing any trauma is a really amazing way to be able to process your emotions. So, imagine just being able to write, you know, what feelings came up.

So, I'll just share with you the other day. I was in a training at a speaker's training, I traveled all the way across the world halfway across the world to attend, it was a fairly time-consuming exercise, I was away from my husband and my two kids. It was just after my mother-in-law’s funeral, she passed away, unfortunately, a few weeks ago, and I felt really guilty for leaving the family, even though my husband and kids were like, look, you have been wanting to do this course forever, you actually just need to go just go and do this particular program, it's going to be really good for you. And when I got there, I came across some amazing people at this training people that were more qualified than me, people I felt that were smarter than me, more experienced than me better looking than me. And all of the self-judgment started to kick in. So, one of the things I did, I took my journal with me, and I actually just started to write my feelings of overwhelm. Without feeling judged, you know, rather than saying that loudly saying, Well, you know, there are people in this room that I feel a bit inferior to, I could talk about that feeling of inferiority in my journal. So, I just wrote that down saying, isn't it interesting, I've got this feeling of feeling inferior. Now, that's just me and my ego running that story. But I journaled about it. And even though it didn't all of that inferiority complex satisfied didn't go away, a lot of it got processed by journaling about it. And so, one of the things that I wrote down and the grateful in my gratitudes in that journal, that particular day was, yeah, but a lot of people applied for this program, Shivani, and they didn't get in and you got in. So you can't be that bad. Like, you must be okay, the fact that you had to qualify to be able to attend here, and I think it's fantastic that you are, you know, having a go at that.

So just again, writing that down, helps that overwhelmed sometimes go away, and again, fear of judgment, nobody's talking to you about it, nobody's going to do what things may have happened to you in the past, but you're just expressing your feelings. The key thing I've learned about processing emotions is, you know, feelings, like words, like good or bad, often isn't a feeling. So, what's really important is you can literally go to Google and download, you know feeling list, and there's, you know, over 100 different emotions, so whether, you know, you feeling, in this case, we've talked a lot about overwhelm, and anxious and, and other things. But there's also a lot of other feelings. So, if you could look at the feeling chart and go actually, that one more describes what I feel, I actually feel really sad, or I feel really angry, and start to describe the feeling words, I find that that goes a long way in terms of being able to process what you want to process as well.

The next tip I want to talk about is that journaling can also help you find out what the next step is. So, it actually helps you action things, that perhaps you felt that there was some inaction around that. So, for example, when I wrote that inferiority part down in my journaling, and then I went actually got picked, you know, to be here. So, one of the things I ended up doing for that five day program, because this was on the first day that I was journaling this was I wrote down saying, I'm not competing with anybody, I'm going to do the best that I can, that I'm capable of. So I just wrote down along the word saying, Actually, what I'm going to do as an action out of here is I'm going to say to myself, before I enter this room, with 30 amazing people, is I'm just going to do a little bit of an affirmation in my mind, that will sound and hear, you know, something like along the lines of, I'm not competing with anybody else here, I'm just competing with myself, and I'm just going to do the best job that I can. That's all I'm here to do. And I'm not you know, make up an experience I've never had, I can't make up, you know, a whole heap of other things. I'm just going to be the best what I can be there.

Sometimes also, I remember being really angry with somebody who hadn't treated me very well and journaling about it. And, you know, I felt that I got to be ghosted, even though we'd be very, very close friends, and I didn't know how to process it. So, one of the things in my journal I wrote down was just how I felt I felt really sad. I felt really angry, because I've reached out to this particular person, and they really weren't that interested, despite having a very close friendship, to be able to just have an honest and vulnerable conversation and talk about it. And then I've moved from sadness to anger, and to be able to process that one of the things that I did was I journaled about it. And then I realized that one of the things I perhaps didn't have very well in that relationship was I didn't have clear boundaries. You know, when this person wanted to see me, I made myself available, even though that meant sometimes it came at the cost of I'm having a commitment that I had with my partner, or with my children, and sometimes with my work, and I went, Okay, so sometimes I'm also a little bit angry at myself that I didn't respect some of those boundaries. And that I needed to respect some of those boundaries, a lot more going into the future. So, some really good things came out in terms of working out what the next steps is not necessarily with this person, but having better boundaries, in future friendships as well, and my existing friendships as well. So, I've really started to think about some of those boundaries, and really starting to put, you know, some things in there as well.

So, they're the key things, you know, the benefits of journaling? And, you know, one of the things I always say, Well, okay, that's good. But where do I start, let me just go back to it that what you want to do is make it super simple, super cheap, not even cheap, super free, and super taking up minimal amount of time. So, I would start with just a book that you can buy for $1, I would just have a pen, there is something very therapeutic about using pen and paper rather than doing it electronically, and leaving it there and not carrying it with you all day. And I would start off with one minute a day, I usually just put the date on it. And I'll just go block on my thing, I would start off talking about things that make you feel anxious or overwhelmed initially, put some feelings around that and some of the techniques we've spoken about it. And then if you can do one or two gratitudes. And I would just start with that 30-40 seconds of that 10 seconds of gratitude, and then build up that practice. Longer term, if you can do journaling, for you know, 10 minutes a day, it would be really amazing.

The other thing is, don't be nice, don't be kind. And if you see yourself as a lovely unkind person in your journal, just let the other part of you out, the shadow part of you out, just let it out, just keep doing it, the more you practice that little one-minute technique a day, and the more you process emotions and get it out, rather than keep them in, the better thing it'll be. And the other thing you might find is as you journal, some of the common threads will come up repeatedly. You know, there'll be certain things that trigger you, there'll be certain people that trigger you and certain behaviors that trigger you. So, then what you do is over time, when you start to read through it, you know, every month or so you might go Oh, that's interesting that keeps coming up again, what do I need to do around that? Do I need to action something? Do I not need to do something? Do I need to do something, and you actually start to discover more things about yourself, rather than sitting in this of doing nothing.

So, I hope this will excite you if you already have a journaling practice, bravo. And I hope that you continue that and maybe even extend if you don't have a journaling practice free. Very little time, one minute a day, seven minutes in a week and just start and just do it consistently. Ideally, at the same time, if that fits in with your diary, and then be able to do that. Thank you for listening. I'm always so happy for any feedback. If you have any questions. My website is called https://www.askshivani.com/ and I look forward to being able to answer any questions. Thanks for listening.