Recently, I added a “Recommendations” page to my website so that I can keep a running log of books, workbooks, apps, journals, and other products that I have found to be useful in the overall improvement of mental health.
The first items that I added to that list related primarily to planning and journaling.
This was strategic on my end. As a therapist, a lot of my focus with my clients revolve around forward movement (planning) and insightful reflection (journaling).
Without getting all psychobabbly on you all, I’ll just lay it out there: there is evidence that supports that even a moderate level of forward thinking, planning, and organizing decreases stress and improves overall mood. And, furthermore, I’m not telling most people anything new when I mention that journaling is an adaptive self-management tool for those who need a way to safely decompress from the events of the day/week.
I think by middle school, most of us had all heard something along the lines of “if you’re having a hard time talking about your feelings, put it into writing.” That concept is absolutely wonderful, however, it is not the only way to benefit from journaling.
Journaling can include the obvious (writing about the events of the day or writing down your feelings) but it can include so much more.
Gratitude Journaling became a popular buzz phrase when Oprah talked about how imperative a gratitude list is. It can be daunting to think about journaling ONLY about gratitude and that turns a lot of people away from it. However, the effects of writing down even ONE thing that you are grateful for each day cannot be ignored. You can literally write down one concept at the end of the day and your brain will thank you for it.
Self Care Journaling can be split into multiple categories. Typically, in the counseling domain, we focus on emotional self care and physical self care.
Finance Logging is also a source of self-support (I know… it sounds so tedious and stressful… but stay with me on this). As one of the main sources of stress for the average family, feeling in control of finances can greatly decrease that stress. While your income might not be increasing and your bills are likely not currently decreasing, your financial habits are something you can take control of. Logging your income vs. your spending is likely the most stressful part of this journey. However, after you do this, you can start to visualize ways to improve your financial state in a tangible way. There are programs and books that help with financial improvement and I’m hoping to share a few of those in my recommendations page and/or a totally separate blog post. Stay tuned for those.
You don’t have to be a master-planner or a super organized person to reap the emotional health benefits of planning and organizing. You simply need to find a system you can look forward to and keep up with.
While I am absolutely obsessed with planning (You guys, I use stickers, washi tape, colorful pens, and all the ridiculousness), planning does not have to be that complicated. It can entail the simplicity of to-do lists, writing down important times/dates (or putting them into your phone), and keeping a calendar handy (again, even a digital calendar).
For those of you who enjoy creativity but loathe the idea of writing things down, using the aforementioned “ridiculousness” might actually help you look forward to doing this. Planning can be a creative outlet and for those who are visually motivated, using colorful tools like this will help you look forward to and enjoy looking at your week ahead.
The simple act of checking things off of a list is “instant gratification”. For some of us, to-do lists are motivating while for others it is a necessary evil. Whatever the case may be, if you find a way that makes future planning less dreadful… and you use that method… you are on your way to improved mood.
The key here is to not make your lists very cumbersome. If you have a long list (I almost always have a long list as I wear many hats in my life as a business owner, counselor, wife, and mom), break that overwhelming list down into top priorities and focus on about 4 items at a time. When all four of those items are checked off, reward yourself with some down-time or leisure activity and then begin your next items (on a new short list).
I’ve also found that for people on the go, little paper lists can get lost very quickly which adds anxiety to their days because “what if I forgot something”. What’s cool is that you don’t have to use paper… you can use your phone or even small wet-erase tablets (I have a few dashboards that are wet-erase snapped into my planner). Whatever you decide to use, make sure it’s something you know you’ll have with you a lot of the time.
An added bonus of using a planner is that you can add much of what you would have jotted down in the earlier mentioned journals into your notes section.
No matter what you do for this or how you do it, if you are finding a way to be prepared for the day ahead, your stress levels will decrease and your mood will improve.
Have you ever made a big goal for yourself and worked very hard at it only to feel like your labors aren’t producing results? If you keep up with a journal or planner at least a couple times daily, you actually will have a visual reference of the progress you have made. More often than not, when a person is using these tools regularly, productivity increases and consequently, improvements are made. In writing, a person is able to measure progress. A simple way to do this is to say “where was I 3 months ago” and go backwards in your planner/journal and then compare it to “where am I today”. For those tracking mood, you’ll see it in your emotion ratings. For those tracking weight, finances, exercise, etc… you’ll also see it in your numbers (assuming you use these strategies and write them down).
If so, shoot me a message or leave a comment with what your goal in this journey is and maybe I can help you line it up. Just start somewhere… anywhere.
Don’t forget, I also have a list of recommendations on my website.