This is part two of a three-part series on Controlling Anxiety Through Journaling.
You don’t need a lot of equipment to get started in journaling. Your preferred writing instrument and a simple paper notebook will do. Start by setting aside 10-20 minutes in your day to write in a notebook, and you’re going to do it four or five days in a row.
If you can, start by writing about a topic that is extremely personal and important to you. It’s important you write about both the emotions and the event. The two are intertwined, but if you want to reap the most benefit, you’re going to have to re-visit the event.
Don’t force this on yourself if you feel you’re going to have a breakdown. If it is completely overwhelming, it might be best to start on less emotional subjects and work your way to your trauma, or you might consider doing counseling.
Start by writing continuously for 10-20 minutes without worrying about grammar, spelling, or structure. Don’t worry about what your high school English teacher would think. Don’t worry about your family, your friends, your pastor will think. This journal is for YOU. It is not for anyone else to read unless you allow it. You are welcome to destroy what you’ve written after you’re done with it (although it may be beneficial later as a reference to where you were at the time of writing).
Accept that starting is going to be difficult. You’re going to experience a huge amount of emotions. It took me a three years to write “Been Dead, Never Been To Europe”. I cried for a few minutes every time I wrote or edited, but at the end I understood a lot more about who I am and where I’m going than if I’d never written it. I still cry whenever I do an interview or talk about my trauma when meeting new people. Trauma is damned hard.
You should expect to feel sad. Trauma is HARD. Dealing with the emotional fall-out around trauma is hard. “HARD” should not be a reason to avoid the process. Burying those emotions and ignoring them means they’re going to linger, then fester, then boil over to the surface, probably at the worst time possible. Emotions don’t typically explode when you’re alone by yourself in the bathroom. They explode when all the other stress in your life gets to the point you can no longer control them. Then they blow up, typically all over the people you love the most. You’re left wondering how you’re going to clean up the mess you just made.
Don’t do that. Try the journaling instead. You can do it alone in your bathroom if you like. Stick a towel in your mouth if you’re worried about others hearing you crying (gee, it’s almost as if I’ve been there). You have my permission.
You may find it difficult to get started with the actual writing if you don’t want to jump right into your traumatic event. What should you write about? What should you say?
You can start by asking yourself the following questions:
- What is important to you?
- What goals do you have?
- What worries you?
- What do you fear?
- What causes you anxiety?
- What do you want to do with your life?
- What are you thankful for?
- On what do you spend your time?
- What are you doing now that gets in the way of accomplishing your goals?
If you’re having problems starting, imagine you’re talking to an imaginary friend. They’re not just for children. Sometimes, I pretend I’m talking to an alien, explaining life on this planet, human beings, and how screwy we are.
Other times, I pretend I’m talking to a real-life friend or loved one, and I imagine them setting next to me. Sometimes I imagine I’m talking to my Mom, who died in 2012. She always has answers to my questions about life. Even though she’s been gone for a while, she remains a fountain of wisdom.
You can do the same. You can tell those people (or aliens) all the things you want to tell them if you only could in real life. Tell them in your private journal. You might find it easier to talk to them in real life the next time you’re presented with the opportunity.
Next up, I’ll give examples of how I answered some of the starter questions. Lead by example – that’s what I always say. (That is a lie. I frequently lead by shouting profanities at people. You don’t have to tell anybody else that part.)