If you’re like many people, 2020 has brought its fair share of challenges to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Whether at home, at work, in intimate relationships or with friendships, many people have found themselves on the edge of emotional breakdown and psychological burnout as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, political turmoil, and social unrest in the wake of racial inequality and injustice.
Burnout is a state of exhaustion that results from prolonged stress and can take the form of emotional, mental, physical, and even spiritual overwhelm. But burnout doesn’t “just happen.” Getting to the point of burnout happens through a progression of overwhelming stressors and the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that we develop in response to those stressors. Poorly managed stress, feeling a lack of control and predictability in our lives, lacking healthy outlets and boundaries, unhealthy coping skills, and feeling helpless (the sense that nothing we do will change things) are some of the ways that burnout takes root.
Most of these signs of burnout point to a sense of not having control, agency or impact in our lives. When the world around us becomes chaotic and unpredictable, those feelings can be normal and expected. But that doesn’t mean we have to succumb to them. The reality is, our perspective and perceptions determine a significant portion of how we evaluate the degree of control we believe we have in our lives and how we manage our stress. Simply put, our capacity to develop a healthy mindset and proactive behaviors are an untapped source of psychological and emotional wellbeing.
The Science of Journaling
There is a powerful tool at our disposal that can help us to manage the emotions that lead to burnout and develop a more resilient mindset, perspective and perception of our reality. That tool is journaling. Journaling provides an outlet to relieve stress and prevent burnout. It can be a path to emotional and mental wellness.
Journaling is an integrative exercise that stimulates both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, giving us direct access to our thoughts, feelings and ideas. Research shows that writing out our thoughts, experiences and feelings can help to decrease depression and anxiety, improve physical health, and reframe past traumatic events.
Journaling makes our thoughts and feelings concrete and tangible, which allows us to have some distance from them. This distance can make it easier to develop insight and create healthier narratives about ourselves and the people and world around us.
In addition, journaling can be used to deepen self-knowledge and emotional awareness, which can lead to improved mood and a renewed sense of hope. It can assist us in reaching our goals by getting us into the habit of writing what’s deep in our heart and giving us a way to map out our future plans.
Three Journaling Techniques for Mental and Emotional Wellbeing
Journaling is backed by scientific evidence. These following research based journal writing techniques can be used to help you cope with stress, prevent burnout, and promote wellbeing.
- Mindful Journaling: This technique encourages you to take time away from other activities in order to focus solely on journal writing – paying attention to your thoughts and feelings as you journal. This is helpful because it allows you to simultaneously use the right hemisphere of the brain (which uses creativity, holistic thinking, and visual spatial images) and left hemisphere of the brain (which uses critical analysis, logic and rational thinking). Mindful journaling keeps you present-focused and creative, while allowing you to see your situation more objectively from a distance, which can lead to deep impact, growth and transformation.
- Structured Journaling: Your journaling practice will be more effective if you give it some structure and commit to doing it consistently for a certain number of days per week. Deciding ahead of time which days and how much time you will commit will increase your sense of commitment to your journaling practice.
- Authentic Journaling: Journaling will net you the greatest benefits if you are able to write honestly and authentically. Reminding yourself that your journal writing is for YOU (and no one else) will help you overcome inhibitions and fears of being honest and open with yourself.
The AWAKE Journaling Method
I developed a 5-minute journaling method – the AWAKE method – that includes these three techniques (mindful, structured and authentic journaling). The AWAKE method helps you stay focused and motivated as you write. Pushing you through your fears and hesitancy about writing, this method allows you to get the most benefit and potential to improve your emotional wellbeing. You can literally learn to write your way out of burnout.
A – before starting your timer, say an AFFIRMATION that supports your journaling practice. If you can’t think of an affirmation, you can use this one, “I completely & deeply accept and love myself.”
W – reflect on WHAT you plan to write about during this journaling session and why you decided to write about it. Then start your timer and begin.
A – as you are writing try to be AWARE of what thoughts and emotions come up for you – and any feelings that arise in your body as you write. Don’t try to analyze or change what you’re thinking or feeling. Just notice and allow yourself to be aware.
K – tell yourself to KEEP GOING even if you find it hard to know what to write or you notice yourself feeling uncomfortable or wanting to stop. Know that your discomfort may mean you’re hitting a breakthrough. Keep going!
E– once the 5 minutes are up, EXIT your journaling session. You can exit by re-reading what you wrote, thinking about what you wrote and summarizing it in your mind, or simply writing an affirmation that affirms the important work you are doing when you journal. The point is to create a boundary and structure that helps you to close your journaling session and come back to it again when you’re ready.
The clients that I work with can confirm that consistent use of mindful, structured, authentic journaling reaps significant benefits. I can also vouch for how journaling has transformed ME personally and professionally. Applying the AWAKE journaling method makes it easy for you to integrate journaling into your wellness routine.
For more on how you can use journaling to help you heal, grow and transform in your life, see the details about my self-paced, online course, Journaling for Self-Care and Emotional Wellbeing. Read more and enroll here.