Journaling Techniques for Healing
Originally published at stronginsideout.com.
While you may have heard that journaling is a great tool to work through difficult situations and emotions, have you ever been totally stumped as to which journaling techniques you should try?
Or did you even know there are different ones?!
Don’t panic. You’re not alone. Tell me if this sounds familiar…
You’re sitting in front of an open journal, startling in its blankness. You took it out because you heard that journaling is supposed to help you work through stuff… but you have no idea how it’s supposed to help. Plus, you’re confused with what actually is going on. Plus, you’re kind of a little teensy bit afraid to write down what’s going on because that means it’s real.
So you shut the journal and decide to zone out with Netflix instead.
Yep. Totally normal.
It’s overwhelming to look at a blank page (or screen) while you’re experiencing deep un-touched emotion and confusion. Considering everything you’re thinking, it can be daunting to get it all out, too. The pressure!
Never fear; Amy’s load of experience is here. ;)
I’ve always been a writer. I’ve journaled my whole life off and on. This past year, I’ve played around with some journaling techniques to see how they affect me. Some worked and others I tweaked until I found 3 favorites that I’ve been using and recommending ever since.
Today you’ll learn:
- My 3 favorite journaling techniques that I personally use and recommend to clients
- The specific benefits of each technique
- How exactly to do it yourself
- Tips to make the most of your journaling
Let’s jump in and get some peace without the pressure!
This is the classic journaling exercise that I’ve used for most of my life. When I’m feeling confused or unclear in any way, I set a timer for however long I think I’ll need (not too long, otherwise I resent the exercise) and get going.
Free writing is the act of writing anything that comes to mind for a set amount of time. Your pen never leaves the page (or fingers stay active on the keyboard) so that you’re writing the whole time. The benefits come from a free-flowing rant-style journal entry. It can reveal a lot about a situation that’s confusing you.
Use free writing to
- get all your thoughts out on paper.
- gain perspective on a situation that may be clouding your judgment.
- understand your emotions and where they’re coming from.
Here’s how you do it
- Get your journal and a writing utensil out (or your fav journaling app on your computer — I don’t recommend journaling on your phone).
- Set a timer for 10–15 minutes.
- Write for the entire time allotted, even if that means “I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write” over and over again. Chances are your motivation to pick up the journal will end up finding their way onto the page.
- When the timer is done, take a deep, cleansing breath. Then, look back over your journal to get some perspective. What affects you? What needs do you want to address? Is there someone you need to talk to about the situation? Did you over/underreact to something that you need to take action to set right?
- If you’re craving more time, reset your timer and go again. Repeat these steps until you gain some perspective or at least until your stress has eased.
- Set your timer for no more than 15 minutes at first. It takes the pressure off of needing to journal for longer. If you don’t get everything out, it’s ok. You can always put more time on your timer if you choose, but if you don’t want to, that’s ok, too. The point is to motivate you to want to journal at all.
- If you don’t have something clear to journal about, start with how you’re feeling and why. That will always take you somewhere.
- If you tend to get overwhelmed or be impatient, this exercise might be a struggle. I’ve found that when I do this for too long, I stress out about not being able to hit every single thing that comes to my mind. I realize now that I don’t have to detail out every tiny aspect of the situation; if I’m using this exercise to gain clarity, all I need is what is already in my head.
- If you reach the end of your free-write and you’re still very emotional, put the journal entry down and do something calming for a few minutes instead. Come back to the entry to analyze after you’ve cooled down so that you can see the situation for what it really is without intense emotions clouding your judgment.
- Try the Love Response technique (the last one in this post) if this one doesn’t clear the air.
Worst Case Scenario Journaling
This is a fairly new technique for me. It’s been helping with some of my leftover OCD behaviors that I’ve been disinterested in resolving up until recently when I realized they were the root of other issues I’ve been working through.
Most of us spiral around situations in our heads because we fear every unknown in the book. You know what the problem with that is? Most of those things will never ever happen. We spend soooo much time and energy ruminating about possible scenarios and how they’ll “ruin our lives,” but doing so completely discounts our strength.
While there are a ton of situations that would knock us down, we are always capable of handling it. Worrying or doing compulsive behaviors because of fear of something happening is like drowning in a kiddie pool because you won’t let go of the hose; you’re drowning yourself because you won’t stop imagining it! So I’m going to teach you how to throw that friggin’ hose all the way across the yard…
Use Worst Case Scenario Journaling to
- stop a spiraling mindset, catastrophic thinking and compulsive behaviors.
- confront fear (great for risk-taking situations!).
- become VERY clear on your strength; empower yourself.
Here’s how you do it
- Grab your journaling equipment of choice and write down exactly what you’re worrying about happening.
For example: I’m worrying about trying this new workout group because I don’t know anyone and I could make a fool of myself in front of everyone.
- Then, ask yourself: “If that happens, then what?” Keep asking yourself that question until you get to the root fear that’s causing the spiral. Using the previous example:
- If that happens, then what? I’ll feel embarrassed and people might laugh at me.
- If that happens, then what? I’ll feel horrible about myself because I knew I shouldn’t have gone to something like that where I could be laughed at. I’d feel stupid and foolish.
- If that happens, then what? I’d retreat into my corner to hide and lick my wounds.
- If that happens, then what? I guess I’d eventually get over it. I won’t hang out with that group anymore; I don’t want to be friends with people who laugh at me. I know I have to put myself out there to make new friends, and that’s scary because there is a risk of rejection, but I won’t ever make new friends if I don’t try.
- The end goal of this exercise is to realize that no matter what happens, you can handle it. I’ve done this exercise with some CRAZY scenarios, and even when the end result is disastrous, I always end up with “I’d handle it.”
- If you’re worrying about catastrophic situations, add in this question at the end: “How likely is that to happen?” Then, when you realize it isn’t very likely (like, a millionth of a percent likely for most of my catastrophic thoughts), remind yourself that the scenario you’re spending energy on probably won’t happen, but worrying about it makes it real in your head. Refuse to live in that reality: get back to the present moment.
- Worrying and compulsive behaviors will not make any situation less likely to happen. Save your energy for the stuff that’s actually happening in your life. Your actions NOW will affect your future, so get out of your head and back into real life!
This is my favorite new journaling technique to recommend to clients. Here’s why…
Most people who come to me for help struggle with deeply ingrained beliefs that they are somehow not enough or not deserving. Those beliefs usually come from a life of being taught that they are not those things.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone comes to me from abusive families. In fact, most people came from doting families that did the best they could however they knew how, but they were unknowingly repeating a cycle of hurt from their parents before them or projecting their own fears onto us. Whatever the reason, the way our parents show up for us is the way that we show up for ourselves and others until we choose differently.
To stop the cycle of self-loathing, we have to learn how to respond to the child we were in a more loving way. That’s where this 2-part exercise comes in.
Use Love Response to
- shift the way you talk to yourself.
- build authentic self-love and self-compassion.
- increase feelings of worth and purpose.
Here’s how you do it
- Start by free writing everything you’re feeling and thinking for 5–15 minutes (set a timer). Don’t worry about being overly negative — this is an uncensored version of how you feel (it takes honesty and rawness for this to work). No judgments here; just get it out onto the page.
- After you’ve finished your free write, read back over what you wrote. Identify what’s really going on:
- Are you hurt by someone? Why?
- Are you afraid? Of what?
- Are you feeling insignificant?
- Are you feeling worthless? etc.
- Take a deep breath to clear any intense emotions or attachments to those feelings. Take a few if you need to.
- In your journal, respond to your free write as if you were talking to your own child: with love and tenderness. This is all about giving yourself the love and support you’d hope to receive from someone else. This is not a time for I-told-you-so’s, beratement or criticism. This is limitless love that you’re expressing for yourself.
For example, if my free write revealed that I was feeling rejected and like I’m not enough because I was dumped by a guy who told me he didn’t love me anymore, my Love Response might look like this:“You’re feeling rejected and like you’re not enough right now, and I am so sorry you’re hurting. While his feelings seem like they’re aimed at you, it’s really more about him than anything else. You are a [at least one positive, real personality trait here] human being who deserves love and kindness just like all other human beings do. While this hurts right now, you will grow past this. You will look back on this and realize it happened so better things could come your way. This is a step toward everything you want. Your hurt is not a sign of weakness; the ability to feel it is actually a strength. So feel it today. Feel it this week, but let it move through you instead of letting it take up residence in your core. I will hold you through this and give you the support you need, even if that’s just my presence. You are loved. You are worthy. The best is yet to come, darling. Hang in there.”
- This is extremely uncomfortable and almost silly at first for all of us. To respond with love to ourselves seems cheesy in the beginning mostly because we’ve never been responded to in that way. If you truly want self-love in your life, it must start here with the way you talk to yourself. Do it in a way that feels most authentic to you. What would you want someone who loves you deeply to say to you? If it feels a little forced, that’s ok. With practice, it will seem less so.
- Avoid the urge to respond to yourself as you’ve learned how. Like I said above, this is not the time for beratement or criticism. It’s also not the time to demand more of yourself or look for proof that you were wrong in some way. This is a time to be positive and compassionate. Try to be the support you’ve always wanted for yourself.
- If you feel emotional during either part of this, that’s good. It means you’re working through some of that really tough stuff. Rather than blocking it or pushing it down, try to let it come and flow through you. Emotions demand to be felt. This is where the healing happens.
Which journaling techniques are best for you?
For me, it changes by the day; sometimes, by the hour. Play around with these and take notes as to which ones leave you feeling clear, free or loved. If they all work, great! You can choose which ones work for you in different situations.
Whatever you choose, my wish for you is that you find relief and hope. This isn’t a journey that’s meant to be easy; but it can make a whole lot more sense if you’re willing to put in the work.
Amy Clover is a speaker, writer and mental health activist. This post was originally published on StrongInsideOut.com, a site devoted to helping you become stronger than your struggle through fitness, nutrition & positive action. Join the email list to get weekly inspiration + goodies >> Click here.