Posts Tagged ‘emotional health’

Journaling for Better Emotional Health

Article submitted by guest author Kelly Simmerman

When I was a teenager, I kept a diary hidden under my mattress. It was a place to confess my struggles and fears without judgment or punishment. It felt good to get all those thoughts and feelings out of my head and down on paper. The world seemed clearer.

Photo Credit Jeff James

I stopped using a diary when I got older. But the concept and its benefits still apply. Now, it’s called journaling. It’s simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. And if you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, keeping a journal can be a great idea. It can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your emotional health.

One of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy way to express yourself. This makes a journal a breakthrough tool in managing issues such as:

–Anxiety

–Stress

–Depression

–Moodiness

–Problems, fears, and concerns

–Inner critique

Tracking feelings day-to-day is essential. That way, we can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them. Also, identifying and calling out negative thoughts and behaviors offers clarity.

Photo Credit Ben White

Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress, providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and better outcomes.

Researchers found that writing three to five times for 15 minutes a session was effective to help participants deal with emotional and even traumatic events. “Those who do so generally have significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who write about neutral topics,” said Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, the authors of the article published by the Cambridge University Press.

I’m sure, as coaches and therapists, you know the basics of how to journal, so I won’t bore you with too many details about the how. I will say this… Journaling is most effective when you do it every day. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule is that once you begin writing, you continue until the time is up.

Photo Credit Hanna Olinger

Also, notice your body as you write. Be aware of the experience of writing. Notice words that made your shoulders hunch as you wrote them, observe where you gripped the pen tighter, or your breathing eased. This is putting you in relationship with your writing and allowing you to witness your brain’s processes.

Putting a pen to paper is a cathartic and private way for you to deal with the stress of your daily life, whatever that stress might be. When you keep a journal, you’re able to approach and release the anxiety you have. Using a journal allows you to process your emotions in a place that is safe and secure like sharing secrets with a best friend who never judges.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”       

— Natalie Goldberg

Long Term Outcomes

• Improved mood/affect
• Helps prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
• Feeling of greater psychological well-being
• Reduced depressive symptoms
• Reduced absenteeism from work
• Quicker re-employment after job loss
• Improved working memory
• Track progress in coaching or therapy work

Why Does This Happen

Writing heals, empowers and transforms. Whether in a journal, a travel log, writing lyrics or poetry, to composing a love letter, writing allows us to clear our mind. And this uncluttering offers mind space so that we can get real with ourselves.

Rather than pushing parts of us away, we are instead creating an environment that allows us to simply loosen our grip. We don’t have to fix anything. All we’re doing is bringing tender, nonjudgmental attention to our thoughts and feelings and making room for whatever is living there. Journaling allows for this. So instead of trying to let things go, I invite the concept of– let things be.

“Journal writing gives us insights into who we are, who we were, and who we can become.” 

— Sandra Marinella

Something else is happening when we take pen to paper. Writing stimulates the Reticular Activating System, which filters through the many topics that your brain processes and determines which points to bring to the forefront. There is a connection between our hands, our arms, our eyes, our brains, and our emotions. We are all integrated beings. At times, it doesn’t feel like it, but all this is happening within one body. Journaling brings all those parts of us together to impact our emotional well-being and mental health.

Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338

Catalyzing Change and the Brain

Article contributed by guest author Sandra Marin

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Since the beginning of time, people have liked routine. We like the known. It makes us feel in control. Safe and comfortable. Boy does this ever resonant now during these Covid times. So, it is no surprise that many of us resist change. Even if we are not 100% satisfied with status quo, we will hold onto it. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. But maybe not….

Our resistance to change is not because we are stubborn or want to be difficult (at least not you or me). It is a reflection of our brains. The brain loves to make sense of the world and helps us control our lives. This is an excellent thing. It keeps us safe.  And, like so many things, if overdone, can be harmful. The inability to change or grow can result in stagnation. No progress. Not good for an individual, a society or a country. 

February’s “coffee chat” topic, hosted by The Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence was Catalyzing Change. This is one of the 26 competencies that make up their social and emotional intelligence model. 

During our chat we talked about many things and what I want to focus on today is the benefit of becoming more of a change catalyzer and less of a change resistor. In particular focusing on one critical benefit that may not be the first one that comes to mind: the positive impact of change on brain health. Yup, change can help our brains remain agile throughout our lives. 

Neuroscience: 1 second intro

Our brains grow and change naturally. Often quite dramatically until around our mid to late 20’s. Historical thinking about the brain was that once we became adults our brains were “hard -wired” and stopped changing. The die was cast. Or so we thought. Recent neuroscience research shows that our brains are much more flexible than we first thought, hence the term neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the term that describes the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and ignore or lose those that are no longer used. We can change our habits, biases and behaviours. Not easy, but possible.

The main benefit of becoming a change catalyzer is that change can help keep our brains agile throughout our life. We can lead richer, happier and healthier lives. In fact, according to neuroscientist and author David Eagleman the single most important thing we can do for our brains is to cognitively challenge them. And that means embracing change. 

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Embracing Change: So what can you do to become more of a change catalyzer and improve the health of your brain? Start small to build your comfort level with change.

For example:

  • Take different routes to and from frequent destinations.
  • Try new restaurants and new types of cuisine.
  • Switch hands for common tasks such as brushing your teeth.
  • Expand your horizons in general. This can be listening to music, reading books, watching movies from styles and genres that you normally wouldn’t.

Of course the small things are not enough. Move on to more challenging activities and behaviours. Such as:

  •  Learn a new language or instrument. 
  • Embrace mistakes. We learn through trial and error. Think less about failing and more about exposing yourself to new activities and experiences. 
  • Practice, and more practice. Simply doing something once is not enough to create a new pathway in the brain. Try, try, and try again. If not perfect, practice does make better. 
  • Be open to new ideas and practices.  Maybe you have heard someone (not you of course) say “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “ we’ve always done it this way.” Resist the urge to stop there.  Go further and ask “ so what if it did change?What then?” 
  • Focus. Be present. Breathe. Deeply. Forget multi-tasking. Our brains are not wired for that. In fact the more we take on, the more our bodies are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Take up yoga, meditation or simply go for a walk in nature. 
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“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” Robin Sharma

I hope I have whetted your appetite for more on neuroscience, change and emotional intelligence. Please feel free to share your comments, questions, tips.

Resources 

There are many excellent resources on neuroscience. Here are three that relate to this article. 

 “The Nun Study”. This study showed that multilingualism and linguistic ability may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Science Daily September 12, 2019 University of Waterloo.

 “The Four Underling Principles of Changing your Brain “Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author, Forbes March 27, 2018.

 “Livewired” by David Eagleman 2020

Five Simple Ways to Develop Your Child’s Emotional Self-Regulation Skills

Article contributed by guest author Stephanie Pinto.

We’ve all seen those kids in the supermarket who meltdown when they aren’t allowed to have some lollies. The children who appear to bully others because they are so unhappy. The teens who mope around because they didn’t get invited to a party, and “it’s like, the end of the actual world”. For some of us, maybe that’s OUR kids. Maybe it was us when we were younger.

My point is, everyone has difficulties managing big emotions at one time or another. Even as adults we often need a friend’s shoulder to cry on, or a partner to confide in. We just cannot always solve things on our own. And hey, that’s okay.

Building emotional intelligence in kids requires a solid foundation of being aware of one’s own emotions. This allows them to start learning how to manage them appropriately. Let’s look at five simple ways to develop our child’s emotional self-regulation skills.

1.     Co-regulate to self-regulate.

We must allow our kids to co-regulate first – this means we allow them to stumble and trip, whilst navigating their emotions. We can’t expect them to regulate big emotions on their own. Be there for them when they need it. Allow them to cry and be upset – but come from a place of teaching and supporting. Show them ways to cope. Brainstorm how to solve the problem. Help them sit in the emotion without judging or hurrying. Hold space by allowing the flow of anger, frustration, or whatever is coming out. And tell them you will figure this out together.

2.     Model emotional regulation for them.

We are our kids’ best teachers. They watch us, without even realising, and pick up traits and habits that we display. Are we showing behavioural self-control ourselves? If we are modelling volatile, snappy behaviour when stressed, how can we expect our kids to keep calm? I like to model emotional language during and after emotional events too. “Wow I am getting so frustrated with this!”, “I was pretty embarrassed before, I think that’s why I snapped at you”. And of course, apologising. “Sorry buddy, I was feeling disappointed with something else, and I accidentally ignored you”. And lastly, modelling how you deal with emotions, goes a long way to helping kids learn what to do: “I know what I need, space and quiet time to calm down”.

3.     Develop their self-awareness.

At a really early age, we can teach our kids how to be aware of their body, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Use parallel talk to help map out what they might be feeling or thinking. “Wow seems like you’re feeling overwhelmed”, “I can see you have lots of energy in your body right now”, “Looks like you’re starting to get anxious and jittery?” When we talk about what is going on for our kids (parallel talk) it helps them to identify it in themselves as they grow. It may seem unusual but kids won’t notice. With time you will start to notice your child monitoring their own feelings and what’s happening in their body – and this shows good self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

“Kids can actually be quite creative in finding their own calming strategies.”

4.     Brainstorm coping strategies.

Explore and build a toolkit of coping strategies for your child to use when they are feeling stressed. Kids can be really creative with finding ways to calm themselves, but initially they may need some prompting to discover strategies. Google has an amazing array of coping strategies posters available. Feel free to get creative and make your own with your child, cut and paste, colour in and list 10 to 20 things your child loves to do. Keep this somewhere handy e.g. on the back of their bedroom door or on the fridge.

5.     Making Mistakes is OKAY!

I include this in many lists and articles I write because it is so powerful! We must actively teach our kids that making mistakes is NOT bad, it is actually GREAT! Even as adults many of us fear getting something wrong and the judgement that comes along with that. When we can’t make mistakes, our creativity, happiness and confidence are stifled! Let’s celebrate mistakes that our kids make, and model being okay with our own errors or mishaps too. This allows our kids to better regulate negative emotions when things go wrong.

Which one of these 5 top tips will you use with your kids this week?

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