Coping COVID-19

Coping with COVID-19 – Tools from our Journals

In the past four weeks I’ve worked with over 45 students in online journaling workshops as each looked for ways to process the impact of the COVID-19 crisis individually and as a learning community. Nearly 75% of the way complete, it’s fascinating what we’ve shared together. And the lessons I’ve learned. My big takeaway comes down to four coping categories, and eight simple journal techniques.

As groups, we’re using journaling as a means to cope with this crisis. But the categories apply no matter how you approach self-care. The important thing is to do what feels right for you — and do something every day, just don’t overdo it.

Key Lessons from our Journals

From rocket scientists to sleep experts I’ve been chronicling the benefits to journaling, especially right now, here on my blog. I’ve also been keeping tabs on the leading thinking coming out of places like the Mayo Clinic and the Center for Disease Control. But it’s my students who had the wisest, most simple wisdom to share from their examples:

Be Present. Present to Emotions, Uncertainty, Gratitude.

Routine. Do something basic every day to Boost Immunity, Sleep Consistently, Journal.

Release. It’s hard enough to take in so much change and so much bad news at once. Let alone to process it. Release in the way that feels right to you through things like Hobbies, Books/Music, Moments of joy.

Connect. At this time of separation we need as many ways to connect as still possible. Focus on Loved Ones, Helping Others, Nature, Faith.

And through their own courage to learn new ways to connect with their journals right now, these students have reminded me of the most simple and effective tools for this moment.

Journal Tools in the Time of COVID-19

Based what I’ve observed with my students these past few weeks, the best approach is to try something simple, with the intent of addressing at least one of the four categories every day. (Colored fonts below indicate a link to additional resources on most techniques.)

Be Present:

  • 5 Minute Sprints – Set a timer for 5, add “What’s going on?…” as your prompt. Write.
  • Reflection Writing – Whatever you end up writing, reread it (aloud if you want to), take a breath, write for one more minute about whatever comes to you. You are your own best coach and advocate.
  • Stream of Consciousness – Take a long walk, focus on your breathing for 3 minutes or daydream for 5. Then open your journal. Write.

Routine:

  • Topics du Jour – Find seven topics that mean the most to you right now. Select one topic per day of the week and assign each to its own page in your journal. Do one quick write on each day’s topic. Repeat each week. For example: Mondays – ‘Managing Stress’, Tuesdays – ‘Healthy Habits’, Wednesday – ‘My Kiddos’, etc.

Release:

  • Clustering – Write a focus word in the center of a journal page and circle it. It could be an emotion you wish to process, a word that represents something that brings you joy, or inspires you. Take a few deep breaths as you consider your word. Then doodle and sketch with branches with whatever comes to mind. When you finish, describe your doodle in words.
  • Dreams – Many of us have been dreaming more often, and we’re remembering more of our dreams, and they are more vivid right now. Dreams are the subconscious mind’s way to process what happens during our day. A journal is a beneficial way to complete that processing.

Connect:

  • Character Sketch – Think of one special person in your life and observe fully in your mind what they mean to you emotionally, as a physical presence, the lessons they have for you, any inspiration or memories. Sit and be present with them for a few moments. Then use your journal to record a vivid description. When you are done, pick up the phone, send a card, or hop on a Zoom call. Share the highlights of your write, or just enjoy the interaction. If this loved one is no longer with us or inaccessible right now, find a ritual to share the highlights — perhaps whisper them to the first star you see in the evening sky.
  • Captured Moment – Let a joyful moment come to mind and then experience it again in your mind using all five senses. Linger for a moment. Then record it in your journal.

Remember the Overall Wisdom

I hope this framework for thinking about coping and self-care is helpful in this moment. Remember to keep it simple, but do something to support yourself each day. Being present, finding routine, releasing and connecting are powerful tools whether your work on them through your journal or in other ways.

 

All of these techniques are presented in the Journal to the Self workshops I teach. Given the current situation, I’m running only online classes right now and finalizing a schedule. Please contact me as I may be able to open a class for you!

 

Photo by Lisa Fotios, Pexels. 

dreams

Understanding Dreams in the Time of Coronavirus

Since social distancing due to coronavirus has started I find myself incredibly tired so early on some nights, completely crashed out on others, and sometimes I just toss and turn and toss and turn.

And man, regardless of the type of sleep, I’ve had some crazy dreams.

Dream Insight

I’ve since learned that this is common around the world. Sleep experts think there is a combination of forces at work. In some ways the daily stress is so much it’s making us sleep lighter or more soundly than usual. With dreams, sleeping so soundly encourages our brains to dream more vividly, while sleeping erratically causes us to wake up and recall them more easily.

According to an article by Psychology Today called, “How Dreams and Stories Handle Emotional Chaos” offers a note of reassurance, even if our dreaming is unsettling now:

…one of the reasons we dream is to make sense of what happens to us during the day, even the worst dreams we have are still plot-driven, still make some sort of emotional sense, and still clean some of the psychological litter box. They allow us to function better in our waking lives because they clear out emotional, spiritual, and intellectual detritus. 

In an LA Times article entitled “You’re not imagining it: We’re all having intense coronavirus dreams” Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., explains this process further:

When we observe something normal, our brains don’t need to “digest” it, he says. However, when something out of the ordinary happens — like a pandemic — our brains may process the experience through dreaming. That’s why “difficult-to-digest” experiences may give us dreams, Naiman explains.

Dream Work in Your Journal

Your journal can be an excellent tool to process these vivid dreams. Some can pull at you later during waking hours. Some tips:

  • Capture very basic facts immediately when you wake in the morning (or even very gently at night so you don’t further disrupt your sleep)
  • Keep a pen, notepad and even a small flashlight on your nightstand
  • Once you are fully awake take a moment to look at your quick sketch and recall your dream in more details; giving it a title can help
  • Remember that any dream you recall is a story from your subconscious; it can be a source of inspiration and release for your thinking brain too

Some options for processing your dreams:

  • Write your dream title (from above) in a circle and then brainstorm all the ideas, feelings, details, symbols that come. This is a journal technique called Clustering.
  • Write the name of a symbol or character from the dream inside the center circle and try a Clustering that way.
  • Close your eyes and take in a central character from the dream or one that repeats in your dreams and take a few deep breaths. Then write what’s called a Character Sketch in your journal. Describe everything about this character from your five senses. Be open to what more this character may have to share with you, what they represent.
  • Try an Artmaking activity with a collage of magazine clippings, drawings or doodles to represent what you experienced in a dream.

For me, one really vivid dream stand out. It was a giant monarch butterfly telling me to go back to sleep. She had to return and remind me two more times during that one fitful night of sleep.

The next morning in my journal I was able to connect her reminder to the ‘butterflies’ I’ve been feeling in my stomach during the day. I constantly have that nag in my gut like when my little guy played soccer goalie and I just closed my eyes until the penalty kicks were all done. I became aware of the transformation symbolism of the butterfly — it’s hard work to change from a caterpillar, but we’re working together to save lives in our community and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Clustering, Character Sketch, Artmaking and Dreamwork are a sample of the techniques I teach in Journal to the Self workshops. Given the current situation, I’m running only online classes and finalizing a schedule. Please contact me as I may be able to open a class for you!

The Season to Dream!

Pisces Season is upon us. A call to listen to our inner wisdom, intuition — and dreams!

Ever wake up with a dream and wonder what it means? Writing about it in your journal can help you sort out these messages and insights from your subconscious. See previous blog posts on Character Sketch, Unsent Letters, Artmaking, Springboards and other techniques you can use to explore the meanings of your dreams.

Want to inspire more dreaming and dream recall? Some tips: keep a notepad by your bed, remind yourself before you fall asleep that you’d like to remember your dreams when you wake up, jot just a few notes and/or a title in the middle of the night then fill in whatever else you remember in the morning. Last tip – the more you try to recall dreams, the more you will recall! Try it out for yourself.

Working with dreams in your journal is just one of 18 amazing techniques I teach during Journal to the Self Workshops (online and in-person session). Plus, all my students receive a cool pen with a mini flashlight to capture dream notes without disturbing your sleep. Join me and learn the insights your dreams hold for you.