Thoughts in Process (On Journals and Journaling)

Search & Surrender: The Help and Hindrance of Journaling through Stress

I had a somewhat excitable and volatile summer. I was regrouping from the news of de-railed plans earlier in the year, and my attention was scattered and unfocused. Even when I was conscious of staying grounded and calm, nothing seemed to be happening as it was “supposed” to happen and a few mishaps additionally shook my sense of center.

By late summer/early fall, my stress levels were increasing with each day, and I realized I was going to have to implement a few changes and not wait too long for them to take effect. I didn’t even ask myself what exactly needed to change–because at that time I didn’t know–I just knew that what was happening was unstable, and I gave myself three weeks to rebalance to an acceptably serene state of mind.

I’m not sure how I decided on three weeks. I recall stumbling upon the headlines of an article at some point around this time, urging people to break a habit in three weeks–I don’t know if this was before or after I assigned that number to myself, and I didn’t read the article. I’ve since learned that the three weeks interval is a controversy between “self-help gurus” and psychologists–see Julia Leyton’s article, “Is it true that if you do anything for three weeks it will become a habit?”. Nonetheless, I marked “Week One” in my journal.

My coping skills, in general, rely on journaling, tea, and chocolate. All week I vented my frustrations onto my journaling pages (if you’ve read my post “Steampunk Journaling” you know I put a lot of thought into journaling), but I added a new element to my system and, at the end of the week, I wrote a caption summarizing the themes that appeared during that week.

So at the end of week three, I had three themes and pondered these catch-phrases from a more focused and less frenzied vantage, beginning to identify changes I could implement. Week One reflected a resolve to eliminate unnecessary distractions, find balance, and remain grounded in the current moment. Week Two I was recognizing opportunities but also conscious of keeping boundaries and allowing others their space. By Week Three I was aware that this was the defining closure to my experimental project, and I was considering and affirming changes and choices that would assist with achieving my goal. This is where I encountered a paradox.

Relieving stress was my purpose, and writing about it helped me to highlight a sort of plan of action–which is what I did not have when I started. But here’s where it gets tricky. Sometimes–even for me– journaling itself gets a little too “crazy.” A little too much wallowing. A little too much obsessive thought patterning. A little too much unresolvable (without additional information) analysis and guesswork.

Was journaling a help or a hinderance to stress? What changes, precisely, did I need to implement?

Change #1–diversify my routine and focus my regular yoga practice (which I had started to do before the three weeks–this was a re-affirmation of that endeavor).

Change #2–Shift from analytical thinking to color therapy (at least allow myself an interval during the day to relax my over-thinking).

After my serious three weeks of searching my psyche through journaling, I realized I needed to surrender this type of analysis to other activities. For a week and a half, I did not journal at all. (This is unusual for me). Instead, I indulged in color therapy. It’s been my intention to revive art projects for a while, but since this was an exercise in de-stressing, I didn’t want to get involved in anything too ambitious, so I thought I’d give adult coloring books a try. I’ve had a copy of Emma Farraron’s The Mindfulness Coloring Book on my shelf for some time and decided this was the time to put it to use–along with my watercolor colored pencils that had also not been put to use for quite some time.

So, what happened? I allowed myself to release the impulse of controlling my reality with words (as is my practiced approach) and just got lost in the sensory experience of color.

And it was calming. And it was low-stress fun.

Then I resumed journaling and it was, once more, a stress aid rather than a stressor.

No, I didn’t change a habit in three weeks, but it wasn’t my intention to change a habit. It was my intention to relieve my stress without any really major unrealistic life changes (such as quitting my job or moving to a new state). What I did was unlock my rigid thinking just enough to realize how my thought patterning was contributing to my stress and what was in my control to alter.

…until the next stress challenge when I realized I was lapsing back into the same thought pattern that was problematic before–but I have adjusted my journaling accordingly.

I’m still an advocate of journaling and an avid journaler, but sometimes journaling alone is not enough (or too much). This trinity of activities (writing, yoga, and color therapy) is the key to keeping my stress at bay just now.

*Ahem* Don’t forget the chocolate.

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