The Self-Soothing Series – Journaling and Affirmations

The Self-Soothing Series - Journaling and Affirmations

I’m back with another instalment of the self-soothing series in which I share tools and strategies to support you when you become emotionally dysregulated. Today I want to talk about the power of journaling and affirmations.

Journaling for Mental Health

Journaling is a helpful tool to manage your mental health. It involves writing down your thoughts and feelings, a bit like keeping a diary, record or summary of your day-to-day life and experiences, both good and bad. Getting things out of your head and onto paper can help you view them in a different way.

For example, people who are anxious or worry a lot may walk around with masses of thoughts rushing through their head. This can feel overwhelming. They might try hard to work through or control their thoughts, which can lead to more anxiety, and therefore even more thoughts. The process of journaling can help with this ‘thought spiralling’ by making the swirling thoughts more external.

Journaling can also be used to keep a record of things you are proud of or excited about. Listing things you’ve done well or challenges you’ve coped with and want to give yourself credit for can improve self-esteem.

What are Affirmations?

Positive affirmations are statements we can say to ourselves when we feel like we need it. Examples include:

  • I am enough.
  • What I did today was enough.
  • I made a mistake today but that’s OK because I’m human.

These types of affirmations are compassionate, kind, understanding and non-judgemental. When we look at ourselves through this lens, we are more likely to feel better about ourselves, our efforts and our lives in general. This is why affirmations can be used to improve self-esteem. When your low self-esteem has been triggered, positive affirmations can serve as a reminder of the good things about you.

Affirmations can also be used if we are feeling in danger or out of control. In these situations, we might use words like:

  • I may have been unsafe in the past, but I am safe now.
  • I can handle this.
  • These feelings will pass, and I won’t always feel this worried.

Typically, when we are anxious, we overestimate the danger or threat and underestimate our ability to cope. These affirmations or coping statements can remind us of our ability to cope with adversity and difficult situations when they crop up which can reduce the amount of anxiety we feel.

Getting Started: Journaling

First, think about what you would like to achieve by journaling. You may want to journal to keep a record of something difficult that happened to you. You could treat it like keeping a diary of your journey through that difficult experience and how it has affected your life and emotional health and well-being. You might want to ask yourself things like:

  • What was difficult about the experience I went through?
  • What feelings came up for me when I went through that experience?
  • What thoughts or beliefs did that bring up about myself, other people or the world in general?
  • What body sensations did I notice when that difficult thing happened to me?
  • How did it affect my life when that difficult thing happened to me?

Alternatively, you may decide you’d like to record things you’re proud of and want to give yourself credit for, but also to document some of the more difficult things that have happened or are happening to you. Journaling prompts might include:

  • What did I do well today?
  • When did I try hard today?
  • What difficulties did I experience today and how did I overcome them?
  • What does this say about me as a person?
  • What did I get excited about today?
  • What interested me today?

The great thing about journaling is there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Nobody is going to judge your journaling. It’s not going to be marked by anyone and nobody is going to have an opinion on it. It’s simply there to meet your needs, whatever they might be.

Getting Started: Affirmations

Again, have a think about what you’d like to use affirmations for. Perhaps you’re struggling with low self-esteem and would like to start using positive affirmations to remind yourself of your good qualities and attributes. Or you might be experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, in which case you could use affirmations as a reminder of your ability to cope. As with journaling, there is no right or wrong. Just think about what you’d like to use affirmations for, and in what area of your life, and go from there.

I like to use the notes section of my phone for affirmations because I always have my phone with me. This means I have no excuse not to read those affirmations and make use of them when I feel like I need to.

If you think it will help, get creative with your affirmations. You might want to write a poem or draw a picture to represent your affirmations. Some people like to draw out their affirmations in colours they find soothing, calming or exciting. Do what works for you and notice how it feels when you use these strategies.

When to Use Journaling and Affirmations

For them to be effective, these self-help strategies are best used frequently. You should treat them a bit like antidepressants. We know that taking medication regularly is the best way to get a therapeutic benefit, and I would say the same applies to these strategies. Journaling once every five days or once every month is unlikely to have the same benefit as doing it every day. I know life is busy, especially if you’ve got kids, so maybe just think about how you can prioritise five or 10 minutes of your day for these practices, just like you would prioritise taking your medication.

Useful Links

The Self-Soothing Series – Diaphragmatic Breathing

The Self-Soothing Series – Visualisation

The Self-Soothing Series – Using Your Imagination

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