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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
If you’re like me, you’re hunkering down for safety, while your head and heart try to process what this pandemic really means on a day-to-day basis.
Astronaut Scott Kelly (the twin who was in space for a year) offered some inspired tips on what it takes to live effectively in isolation.
NASA has been studying the effects of isolation on humans for decades, and one surprising finding they have made is the value of keeping a journal. Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day. If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories. Even if you don’t wind up writing a book based on your journal like I did, writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant.
Turns out you CAN be a rocket scientist. All you need is your journal!
Power for Your Journal
NASA Photo by Bill Ingalls.
This is a tough time, but we’ll get through it. The best thing to do as a community is social distancing. But let’s keep spreading kindness. As my way of sending a little ripple of love and healing into the world I am offering three free Journal the Self Online workshops.
This is normally a six-week, self-paced program. But if you have extra free time and can commit to doing the class in half the time, I’d love to have you. 45 spots! You just need to commit to at least one hour of reading/journal work per day for three weeks, and be open to working on your own growth, creativity, stress reduction and self-care during this time!**
- Workshop 1 (Reg open) – Mar 19-Apr 15
- Workshop 2 (Reg opens Mar 21) – Mar 26 – Apr 22
- Workshop 3 (Reg opens Mar 21) – Apr 2 – Apr 29
Apply coupon ‘JournalPower’ at checkout to take the class for free.
Any book angels out there? There are two optional texts recommended for this workshop. Contact me if you are interested in purchasing the books for anyone who is either under a medically-required quarantine, or for anyone who might have limited income right now. I will match you up with a student! Email Laura.TeamSage@gmail.com with subject-header “Book Angel”. $35 donation.
** I am keeping in mind that this situation is very fluid and if your situation changes, I understand if you have to drop out.
My in-laws are a family of math people, and bakers. So we never miss out on celebrating Pi Day. (Our favorite is a cookie-cake with the Pi symbol on the middle — a circle, of course. We waited so that we ate it at exactly 3.14 1:59!)
A great Pi-related journal prompt is the List of 100. This is great if you want to generate big ideas, and tap your intuition in the process. Start with a prompt, such as:
100 things I am grateful for…
100 things I’m feeling stressed about…
100 marketing ideas…
100 ways I can help others…
100 lessons I have learned…
100 things to delegate…
You get the idea! Pick a topic and get ready to write.
Here are a few pointers: Write very quickly. Number as you go. Repeat, repeat, repeat is ok! If you get stuck, just write ‘stuck’ until the next thing comes.
Now comes the Pi/Pie Chart part — reread your list. Look for patterns, themes and insights. Assign items to categories, count and make a pie chart with the results.
Don’t forget to write a reflection of the overall process or outcomes to wrap it up (link is to an audio file, you might have to download the free app first). Every List of 100 is different. Sometimes you get big insights while writing the list (especially somewhere between items 66-100 on the list), sometimes while sorting or doing a pie chart, and sometimes while reflecting on the overall activity.
Join me for Journal to the Self
List of 100 is just one of 18 amazing techniques I teach during Journal to the Self workshops. Learn more on the Workshops page (online and in-person session). Or, if you prefer to sample first, try a free technique, or let’s schedule a no obligation phone call to chat about how I can support your own change journey.
Topics du Jour is one of my favorite journal techniques because it’s so clever, simple and effective. The idea is easy – brainstorm the top 30 words that mean the most to you. Represent your own priories with names of people in your life, values or skills, your favorite activities or hobbies, etc! Then assign each to a number.
Now you are ready for Topics du Jour in your journal. Write about each topic on that date of the month. Let’s say your daugther was born on the 7th. So you assign her name to #7 and write about her on 7th of each month. Want to do a monthly check in about your finances? Maybe assign it to #15 since Tax Day falls on the 15th of April.
Check out this short webinar to learn more and set up your own Topics du Jour practice. And, learn why I write about ‘synchronicity’ on the 13th of each month!
Topics du Jour is just one of 18 techniques I teach during my Journal to the Self workshops. Learn more on the Workshops page, download a free sample first, or schedule a no obligation phone call to chat about how I can support your own change journey.
We’ve gained an hour of sunlight (but I do miss that hour of sleep!). The earth still appears to be sleeping, but change is afoot.
In your journal this is great inspiration. Try a Springboard or a Clustering write.
As a Springboard write, use the words as your prompt and follow your writing.
As a Clustering write, place the words in the center of a page and circle them. Then branch and sketch as it suits you.
Write for five minutes. When you are done, reread your writing and jot down a few follow notes based on what you notice, observe in your body or any to do’s that may be popping out to you.
Use Your Journal to Spring Forward, Farther!
Springboard and Clustering are just two of 18 amazing techniques I teach during Journal to the Self workshops. Learn more on the Workshops page (online and in-person session). Or, if you prefer to sample first, try a free technique, or let’s schedule a no obligation phone call to chat about how I can support your own change journey.
February is the shortest month, but packed with inspiration. I think of it as Head (Abraham Lincoln’s birthday), Heart (Valentine’s Day, of course) and Gut Instinct (taking a leap into Spring). My posts this month have reflected ways to use this inspiration in your journal.
As we enjoy today, the gift of one extra day, I’ll share some tools to tap the Head, Heart and Gut.
Tools for Head, Heart, Gut Instinct
Be sure to download my free Head, Heart, Gut worksheet. It’s the perfect prompt for the ‘Five Minute Sprint’ Journal technique. Great if you just have a few moments for your journal. And, it works great if you are feeling fuzzy or overwhelmed and wish to better understand what’s going on for you.
If you have more time, or wish to take your writing deeper you can listen to the Head, Heart, Gut audio meditation first on Insight Timer. The guided meditation will help you relax and focus with a short body scan and some relaxation breathing. (File should be live on my Insight Timer library this weekend.)
Enjoy this bonus day that calls us to trust our instincts and take a Leap!
All these journal techniques are designed to help you be your own personal growth coach and guide towards your own vision. Try these free tools and then let’s schedule a no obligation phone call to chat about how I can support your own change journey. Mark your calendar and plan to join me for my next online Journal to the Self® workshop which begins March 12.
Reflective Journal writing is so simple to do — and brings amazing insights. I also love those times when my journal absolutely makes me laugh out loud. It’s often when I need a humor break the most, or as I’m making some sort of delightfully profound connection — blowing away an obstacle that had been weighing me down.
It’s really fun for me to share a recent humor example that I think will stay with me forever. I’m reading Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico. One of the activities is to use the Clustering technique as in Journal to the Self®with the prompt word
I have to admit I wasn’t overwhelmed with the exercise. But I sat down and began by adding words about the big, bad, scary things related to being afraid. And then I added a protective lower ring I called the ‘safe zone’. And I finished with a core that wrapped around and highlighted the powerful parts of being afraid (like learning and experimenting). I felt done with words and sketched a few lines to contain and highlight the groupings.
I put my pen down, again feeling underwhelmed. But then I shifted the page just a touch to review my Cluster.
And I laughed out loud.
Here’s the sketch that emerged from my Cluster, as well as an image that represents the brain reading I’ve been doing lately about our reptile brain, why it’s programmed to think negatively (to protect us) and how people can use journal writing as a work around.
Darn it if I hadn’t just sketched a whole brain! When I finished laughing I did the next writing step, to describe what happened in the Cluster. In just mere moments I combined items related to my personal goals and business vision, readings and research I’ve been doing lately, and topics I’ve been discussing with a friend. Talk about the time savings, good laugh and next steps all packed into one journal write.
Journal to the Self Online
Hope you have fun watching for the humor in your own journal! Whether you make yourself laugh, or inspire yourself with how super-smart you can be, I hope you can join me soon for a Journal to the Self workshop. It’s a fun and amazing experience of personal discovery. My next online class begins March 12. Apply coupon code ‘Envision2020’ for a discount.
Brain image source: World of Lucid Dreaming