COVID-19 has thrown us into a time of overwhelming change and transition that no one was prepared for. Our normal routines have vanished. We’re confined and confused. We’re frightened about what might be coming next. Is there a healthy, inexpensive way we can feel better and reduce stress when we’re sheltering-in-place?

One good way: write in a journal.

Please don’t feel intimidated by that. Journaling is simply the process of recording thoughts, feelings, experiences, and observations. It is most beneficial, even therapeutic, when done with intention. It is also a private, courageous, healing act; a powerful form of witnessing to the self; and a proven method for self-directed change.

Writing about thoughts and feelings has long been shown to offer emotional, physical, and spiritual comfort. The act of writing itself structures whirling, nebulous thoughts into a more coherent form, which can soothe us or help clarify the situation. The journal becomes a welcoming container into which we place those thoughts and feelings so that they become less stressful and easier to manage.

When you face a blank journal page, it can be helpful to use a prompt: the beginning of a sentence or a question to start your writing. Different techniques offer variety that keep your writing lively and heartfelt. And, in difficult times like now, they can help keep further emotional turmoil at bay. On this section of Narrative Healthcare, I’ll be sharing those techniques, and lots more, about journaling. My hope is that writing at least a few times a week will make it a little easier for you to navigate the choppy waters we are all sailing these days.

If you haven’t journaled before, or simply want some information on the approach I will take here, please see the Introduction below. It has some important information that will help you get started on the right foot.

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April 8, 2020

Lists

Making a list can be a good way to journal when there’s a lot going on and you just want to get a handle on it or want to feel more organized. Or perhaps you like making lists. Or you use a list as a way to track things to explore in more detail later. No rules, remember!

Here’s a very simple form, with another piece added to it:

First, make a list of 5-10 (or more!) things that make you happy or help you feel good. You can write a list of things for which you are grateful. That can be a helpful reminder and raise your spirits in difficult times.

Now, the addition: choose the one item that makes you feel the best or the happiest right now and write about it however you like. Write for at least 10 minutes, and feel free to go longer, too. 

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April 1, 2020

The 5-Minute Sprint

The name says it all. With this technique you write for 5 minutes. Set a timer and stop when it rings. A 5-Minute Sprint is great when you don’t have much time, want to get right to the point, or are dealing with a difficult issue about which you want to make some quick observations. You might be surprised at how much you can express in such a short time.

Here are some prompts you can use to begin your sprint (or simply begin however you like). Date your page. Choose a prompt, write it on your page, and go from there:

Right now I feel…

If I could…

My heart is saying…

What’s on my mind this minute?

I would love to…

I will never…

That’s it! You have learned your first journaling technique. Feel free to come back to the 5-Minute Sprint whenever you can. Another technique coming up soon!