Journaling for Emotional Wellbeing #AtoZChallenge

Wow, did I seriously not think about journaling when ruminating over what word to pick for my letter J post? Well yeah, indeed I completely forgot. But now I know, so for today, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite yet most challenging self-care habits: journaling.

I started my first journal when I was about eleven. It was a handmade diary with Braille pages stuck in it. I didn’t keep it for long though. When I was thirteen, I started writing a regular diary on my computer. That one lasted for over three years, until I discovered the Internet and online journals. I always wished for my journals to be read by others, even though I never wanted my parents to be those other people. That happened with the online journal, which gradually morphed into a blog.

That being said, I need to learn to write in private again. Not just anything that goes on in my head, is suited for the whole wide world to read.

Journal keeping can have many benefits for your emotional wellbeing. It can help you identify patterns in your thinking, find triggers for negative feelings and be more grateful, among other things.

Remember, the diary is just one form of journaling. Usually in a diary, you write what you did during a day, including how you felt. There are other types of more focused journals, such as:

  • Dream journal, in which you write down your dreams after you wake up in the morning.
  • Goal-related journal, such as weight loss or smoking cessation journals. In this type of journal, you track your progress towards a goal. For those of us dealing with addictions, eating disorders, etc., a journal for tracking how many days you’re in recovery, may help too.
  • Gratitude journal, in which you write a list of daily gratefuls or otherwise express your gratitude. See my letter G post for more tips on this.

Some journaling “experts” recommend writing stream-of-consciousness style. Others recommend using prompts. You can combine the two by responding to a journaling prompt in stream-of-consciousness style too. There are many free and cheap books of journaling prompts. My favorite is the Journaling with Lisa Shea series. I have the whole series in one single eBook.

There are lots of ways to keep a journal. You can have a standard paper journal or a document (or more than one) on your computer, tablet or smartphone. There are also lots of apps that are aimed at helping you journal. I have tried dozens of those on my iPhone. My current favorite is Day One, which is available for all Apple products and I believe Android now too. Still, no matter how many products you try, you need to be the one sticking to a regular habit of journal keeping.

Do you have a journal (other than your blog)?

Intentions: Living Your Life with Purpose #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 9 in the #AtoZChallenge and my letter I post. I really wasn’t sure what to write for this post, so looked to The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care by Anna Borges for inspiration. One of her letter I topics is “intentions”. This may seem fluffy to you and it feels that way to an extent to me, too. Today I am going to write about living your life with purpose.

When I think of this, I immediately think of the Purpose-Driven Life, which is some type of conservative Christian book about how Christians should live their life. Even though I haven’t read it, I know it has many things that will not apply to me as a progressive believer. Besides, I want to speak to people of all faiths and none at all, so this is not what I’m talking about.

Instead, I am talking about determining how you want to live your life. A purpose in life can really be whatever you want it to be. That doesn’t mean it should change very often – it really should not.

For living with intent, it requires that you focus on your core values. Determining these may be hard especially when you’re still young or unsure of yourself. However, though your life’s purpose shouldn’t change on a whim, it isn’t necessarily completely static either.

Focusing on who you want to be and what you want to achieve, can take the form of a single word or phrase. For example, I choose a word of the year each January. This year’s is Wellbeing. I know that most words of the year I’ve set in the past are related to emotional wellness. Of course, most people strive for happiness in their lives, so this may be an open door really. However, if you set a word such as “Success” or “Productive” as your focus word of the year, this reflects that other values, in this case achievement, are more important to your happiness. Remember, that’s okay too. Just because I am focused on emotional wellness, doesn’t mean you need to be too. In fact, I think my chosen intentions may come across a bit self-centered to some.

Once you have set an intention for your life, or for the next year, it should help you guide your path. If you reflect on your chosen theme regularly, it will become easier to let it guide your short and long-term goal setting.

Do you have a word of the year for this year or an intention for your life in general?

Gratitude: Counting Your Blessings #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter G post In the #AtoZChallenge. Today I want to talk about gratitude. Making a habit out of noticing what you have, can be very helpful for your mental health. Like most other self-care activities, it may be hard to do when you’re feeling low, so I recommend you start practising gratitude when you’re in a good or at least okay place. Then it will come more naturally when you’re feeling low.

On this blog, I aim to write gratitude lists regularly. These are usually lists of things I’ve been grateful for in the past week or so. However, you can also write a general gratitude list that lists things that are positive about your life. Such a list can look something like this:

  1. I am thankful for my physical health.
  2. I am thankful for my husband.
  3. I am thankful I have a home in the care facility I can feel safe in.
  4. I am thankful I am financially secure.
  5. I am thankful for my medication.

You can aim for a certain number of gratefuls, such as ten in the Ten Things of Thankful (#TToT) blog hop. I have done other types of posts of this kind on this blog and older blogs. Examples include 99 things I like, 20 things I’m grateful for in life, etc.

However, when you’re feeling low, it may help to just write what you’re thankful for and not set a specific number you must reach. After all, that might create stress that you do not need right now.

Another form of expressing gratitude is the thankful letter. You can write thankful letters to people you’re grateful for in real life and actually send or give them to said person. However, you can also write thankful letters to things or situations.

A variation to this theme is the love letter. Of course, it may be good to write a love letter to your significant other, but again you can write love letters to anything.

If you don’t write gratitude lists or thank you letters, there are other ways of counting your blessings. Saying to yourself or aloud to someone else that you’re grateful for something, may be enough.

How do you express gratitude?

Essential Oils and Fragrances: My Favorite Scents #AtoZChallenge

I am very late posting my letter E post in the #AtoZChallenge, because I’m struggling quite a bit. I won’t go into details about that now. My letter E post is about essential oils and other fragrant products.

Essential oils are oils that are extracted from plants. They are called essential, because without them the plant will die. Essential oils are often believed by natural medicine-minded people to help with a variety of health issues. There are no placebo-controlled, double blind research studies on their effectiveness though. I in fact doubt that’d be possible, as patients would be able to tell by smell whether they’d get the EO or a placebo.

That being said, essential oils do smell good and, even if you don’t believe in their effectiveness for health issues, you can still use them in self-care. Here are some of my favorites.

1. Ylang ylang. This sweet-smelling essential oil is reported to be an aphrodisiac. It is also said to help with relieving anxiety, sadness or tension. It can be used as a relaxing oil. I just love the smell of this oil!

2. Sweet orange. This oil is reported to be good for lifting your mood. It is my favorite of the citrus essential oils.

3. Eucalyptus. I don’t know what type of eucalyptus EO I own, as I bought it at a soaping supplies store that didn’t specialize in aromatherapy. There are several commonly-used eucalyptus varieties, such as eucalyptus globulus and eucalyptus radiata. I particularly like to smell eucalyptus when I’m having a cold or congested sinuses.

4. Peppermint. This is another oil that helps when I’m having a cold. I bought it at the same soaping supplies vendor I bought the eucalyptus EO at. They recommended peppermint oil should not be used in baths, as it is very strong.

5. Lavender. Though I don’t particularly care for strong lavender scents, I like to diffuse a little lavender EO when I can’t sleep. I don’t know whether it works, but it does help.

Besides essential oils, other products that have strong scents can be used in self-care too. For example, when I still lived with my husband, I would often burn a wax melt. These are a relatively safe alternative to scented candles. That is, the melting wax doesn’t get very hot, but it still makes a mess at times and you don’t want to spill it all over your hands. It may not leave burn marks, but it’s definitely uncomfortable.

Wax melts come in a ton of different scents. I particularly liked the bakery smells, though my husband found most way too strong.

What are your favorite scents?

Diet and Exercise: A Healthy Lifestyle for Wellness #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter D post in the #AtoZChallenge. Usually when looking for inspiration this year, I have looked to The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care by Anna Borges. Today though, no “D” topic inspired me. Besides, I had basically already made up my mind that I was going to write about diet. Then I decided to add exercise to today’s discussion, as I already have an “E” topic in mind.

Having a healthy lifestyle can be hard for most people and it’s especially hard for those of us struggling with mental health issues. When I suffer with major depression, for example, all I feel like is sleeping and eating and I certainly don’t feel like moving. I’m not telling you that you should force yourself to have a healthy lifestyle all the time. That’s not possible for most people and, when you suffer with serious mental health issues, it’s often not a priority. If it takes all your effort to get out of bed, I’m not telling you to exercise.

But generally, it can really be helpful for your wellbeing to mind your diet and physical activity level. I, for one, need to lose weight to get to a healthy BMI. However, that number on a BMI chart or even on the scale isn’t the main reason I try to eat a relatively healthy diet. It makes me feel better mentally if I get enough healthy food in me and don’t overeat. Getting enough veggies is a struggle with the poor quality of food we get here at the care facility, but I do try to eat enough fruit.

Besides nutrition, hydration is important too. I try to make sure I drink at least two liters of fluids a day. This has been harder now that my days are less structured due to the day center being closed, but I really need to get my hydration habit back up. I use an app called Water Reminder, which is free (with a one-time in-app purchase to remove ads and add some additional features).

It also certainly helps me to get moving. Now I must say that I’ve not been majorly depressed in a long time, so moving comes relatively easily to me. I particularly love walking, as regular readers of this blog will know. I also try to go on the elliptical a few times a week.

Do you try to develop or maintain a healthy lifestyle? Does it help with your mental health?

Cognitive Distortions: Change Your Thought Patterns to Feel Better #AtoZChallenge

I have been debating whether to continue the self-care theme for A to Z or not. I mean, I want to, but right now I’m not really motivated. I have a post in my drafts folder talking about coffee instead. Then I realized that, since I am struggling quite a bit today, I could really benefit from some self-care. For my letter C post, I am focusing on cognitive distortions. These are those dysfunctional thought patterns that often stand in the way of us feeling better.

While cognitive distortions are dysfunctional and often incorrect, they do make sense to our minds. Everyone employs cognitive distortions at times. Some thought patterns that aren’t reality-based, may even be helpful. For example, most drivers think they are less likely to end up in a car crash than other drivers, even though statistically only 50% of drivers can be less likely than others to end up in a car crash. This is called unrealistic optimism.

Many cognitive distortions though can be unhelpful. Examples of such cognitive distortions include:

  • Filtering: seeing the world through blue-tinted glasses. In other words, seeing the negative aspects of a situation only and overlooking the positive.
  • Polarized or black-and-white thinking.
  • Over-generalizing: drawing general conclusions based on limited experience.
  • Jumping to conclusions: thinking that you can read other people’s minds or predict the future.
  • Catastrophizing: always expecting the worst possible outcome.
  • Personalization: taking things that are not even remotely related to you personally. This can mean you apply random occurrences as being specifically about you, often in a negative way.
  • Fallacy of control: thinking either that everything is in your control or that nothing is. In reality, life is a complex combination of choice and circumstance.
  • Fallacy of fairness: mistakenly believing that everything should be based on what’s fair. Well, life isn’t fair.
  • Blaming: holding other people responsible for your feelings rather than taking ownership of them yourself.
  • Emotional reasoning: seeing your feelings as facts.
  • Fallacy of change: believing someone else or a situation will change if you’re patient enough. Basing your happiness on someone else’s or a situation’s changing rather than taking actions to change your own thoughts or behavior.

Now that I think of it, I can identify at least a couple of these cognitive distortions as reasons behind my recent struggling. For example, yesterday I had symptoms that signaled a UTI, but I catastrophized that I had some serious illness. This was based on the thought that I’ve had for years that, once I’d find a place to live in where I feel safe, I’d die. This is jumping to conclusions. Then I thought that, by thinking I had a serious illness, I was making it real through some kind of twisted law of attraction that I don’t even generally believe in. This is an example of the fallacy of control. In the end, I felt miserable and all because of some cognitive distortions.

Do you often find yourself employing cognitive distortions?

Breathe: Using Meditation for Self-Care #AtoZChallenge

I originally intended to write today’s post for the #AtoZChallenge yesterday and schedule it for this morning, but somehow I didn’t get down to writing it at all. I hadn’t even decided on a topic yet, although several floated through my mind. Eventually, I decided to continue with the self-care theme. B is for “breathe”.

Deep breathing is often hard for people at the best of times. It can be a real challenge if you’re anxious. That’s why you may benefit from breathing exercises while you’re calm. Then you will train your body to breathe properly, so that it comes more naturally when you’re stressed.

That being said, the first step to learning to breathe deeply into your belly is to be aware of your breathing. You can use meditation for this.

Beginner’s guided meditations often focus on being aware of your breathing without the need to change anything about it. You will learn to notice each inhale and exhale without judgment.

Once you are aware of your breathing, you can learn to control your breathing more consciously. Often, it is recommended that you take a long, but not too long, inbreath through your nose. Then you are advised to hold your breath for a few seconds and then do a long outbreath through your mouth.

Another common meditation practice is the body scan. This allows you to feel each sensation in your body systematically without judgment. Start by feeling your toes, feet and ankles. Then gradually move up through your legs, lower abdomen, upper abdomen and chest, hands and arms, shoulders, neck and finally your head. Most body scan meditations have you check in with your mental processes at the end. Remember, this is a check-in. You don’t need to change anything.

You can add other aspects of meditation to your practice, such as mantras or visualizations. I like to use affirmations as mantras. I also love visualizations, such as visualizing the colors of the rainbow.

There are tons of good meditation apps out there that offer guided meditations and often a timer to practise on your own. I have tried a few and must say my favorite is Insight Timer. This app has thousands of guided meditations by a variety of teachers. Most guided meditations are free. The premium plan offers additional content, such as courses. Right now, the app has a specific category called For Uncertain Times that’s geared towards coping with the COVID-19 crisis.

ACCEPTS: Coping with Distress By Using DBT #AtoZChallenge

I haven’t decided on a theme for this year’s #AtoZChallenge, so I can basically write about whatever comes to mind. Right now, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and we’ll most likely be by the end of April still. As such, today’s post is about self-care in times of distress.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a commonly-used approach to treating emotion regulation issues such as those found in borderline personality disorder, but its strategies can be useful for anyone having a hard time coping with crisis. DBT’s founder Marsha M. Linehan was probably fond of acronyms, as DBT has many. One such acronym, which is particularly useful for coping with difficult emotions during times of distress, is ACCEPTS. ACCEPTS stands for the following.

Activities: find a hobby or sport to do. Yes, playing video games or watching Netflix counts. For me, reading is my hobby of choice.

Contributing: do some form of volunteer work or help a friend. The book The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care by Anna Borges provides babysitting for a friend as an example. This is not likely possible in these times of lockdown, but helping out online probably also counts.

Comparison: look to a real or fictional situation that could be worse.

Emotions: try to channel the exact opposite of the emotion you’re trying to fight. For example, if you’re sad, watch funny YouTube videos. You can also train yourself to act opposite of the emotion. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to put on a smile when you’re sad, though that might help. It also means, for example, doing the opposite of your initial response to your emotion. For example, if you’re feeling like sleeping it off, try exercise.

Push away: visualize building a wall between you and the negative emotion or imagine that it is a mass you can push away.

Thoughts: do something that requires your full cognitive attention. The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care clarifies that you don’t need to do any sort of critical thinking. Borges instead provides the example of reading a book, focusing on each sentence intently. I prefer word games.

Sensation: provide yourself with a strong sensation to focus on. For example, hold some cubes of ice. I’ve seen some people even suggest smelling ammonia. That’s crazy to me (I initially thought ammonia was another acronym). Borges, however, says you can actually focus on pleasant sensations such as soft textures too. I love essential oils.

What are your favorite techniques of coping with distress?

My Hopes for 2020

Hi everyone and a happy new year to you all! I’m wishing all my readers the best for 2020. May this year be filled with health and happiness.

Like last year, I don’t really do new year’s resolutions. That is, I’m calling them “hopes” as to have them give me less pressure. This may be a stupid mind trick, so that if I fail at all of them at the end of the year I can just say I wasn’t really meaning to stick to them. Well, anyway, here goes.

1. I hope to find a way to keep my marriage as strong as it’s now whilst I’m living in the care facility. This mainly means I need to find a way to keep seeing my husband despite the fact that I won’t have the ParaTransit to travel one way even once every other week. I really need to find a way to learn to travel by public transportation. The thought of which overwhelms me. Then again, the consequences of not making this work, are far, far worse. I have very conflicting feelings about this whole situation, which I won’t be sharing here.

2. I hope to settle in at the care facility, both the home and the day center, and find a routine that keeps me happy.

3. I hope to keep going for a healthier lifestyle. I first hope to be more mindful of my food choices. I mean, I did okay’ish over the holidays, eating far less than I would have had I not had it in mind that I ultimately need to lose all the pounds I put on. However, I still ate more than I should have.

I hope to stick to my habit of drinking two liters of fluid each day. I have occasionally lost track when at my husband’s, but did welll over the past month otherwise.

I really want to get into an exercise routine. I have a gym in mind that I may want to join in February (because everyone else joins the gym in January).

4. I hope to stick to a regular writing and blogging schedule. I won’t push myself to blog everyday or the like. I mean, I could be joining in with #JusJoJan again and I know the rules aren’t strict so this post counts too, but I think I’d rather jump in when a prompt speaks to me. I aim for a minimum of two posts a week, unless illness or technical problems get in the way.

Dreaming bigger, I hope to write another essay that could be published in an anthology in 2020. I mean, I’m still excited about the one piece I had published in 2015, but there must be more in store for me.

5. I hope to read more. The year is off to a good start, as I finished a book (okay, one I’d started reading in 2019) today. I really want toventure out into the book blogosphere, even though I have zero intention of becoming a real book blogger.

6. I hope I can get into a better self-care routine. This is really an excuse for me to explore more of mindfulness, essential oils, relaxation, etc. I often think that I need to be productive all day. Then recently I listened to a Podcast in which the presenters explained the importance of daydreaming. They linked a lack of it to dementia, which has me scared like crap, because whenever I’m not doing anything in particular, I tend to fall asleep. They didn’t say whether you can train yourself to daydream or whether this helps, but it can’t be bad.

What do you hope to achieve in 2020?

Today’s Accomplishments (October 29, 2019)

Last December, I wrote a post in which I shared my small (but important!) accomplishments for the day. I wanted to make this a regular feature, but didn’t. I am not promising it will be this time around, as pressure to do something every day or week with regards to my blog, usually overwhelms me to the point where I quit prematurely. Such was the case with the 31-day writing challenge this October and it’s been the case before. I’m however definitely hoping I can do these more often. Anyway, here are my accomplishments for today.

1. Took good care of my personal hygiene. It’s Tuesday, which means I start my morning routine all by myself and don’t get any help with my personal care. I usually take a quick shower then and often forget to put on deodorant, brush my teeth and hair. I not only took a more thorough shower than usual, but did use deodorant and brushed my teeth. I don’t think I brushed my hair.

2. Took my morning and evening meds, including multivitamin. I got the multivitamin added to my meds recently as I am deficient in folic acid (one of the possible reasons for my fatigue). I often have to remember to ask the staff for this one myself, as it isn’t in the med management system yet.

3. Had three relatively healthy meals. I had two slices of bread with chocolate spread on it for breakfast. That isn’t the healthiest possible choice, but it’s okay. I had two slices of bread again for lunch, plus a banana and a pear. For dinner, we had boiled potatoes, a hamburger and kohlrabi.

4. Walked twice today. Well, three times really, as I also took a short walk in the morning with the day activities staff and two other clients. I took a longer (about 20 minutes) walk in the afternoon with just the staff and took another walk with the living facility staff and one other client in the evening. I don’t have my Fitbit anymore, as its battery is dead and I can’t find its charger, but I’m confident I met my goal for active minutes for the day.

5. Did a short mindfulness meditation. Okay, it took only three or four minutes, but the act of starting a guided meditation in itself is already an accomplishment.

What have you accomplished today?