Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Bridget Jones is back in town...

...but does her Diary actually help?

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Bridget Jones is back, using her diary to spill all her deepest, darkest secrets. These days, as well as counting calories and alcohol units, she's also totting up nits on her kids' comb and accidentally pressing 'forward to all my contacts' with a ranting email, instead of delete. But does keeping a diary actually help her?

We all have those tough days: you’ve spotted damp patches on your bedroom wall, your boyfriend has just taken off to the Bahamas without you, and, as the final straw, you’ve been going to the gym for months and still put on 2lbs. Just like poor Bridget, it’s all going horribly wrong and you’re downright miserable. What do you do if your best friend is busy and can’t be there for you to off-load? No problem. Find a pen and paper and de-stress with your Journal instead, using the techniques, below.  

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Many of us have kept a diary in the past, especially during our teens. But, as an adult, there are plenty of productive ways to keep a journal that can make a big difference. Here are three simple steps to feeling better:

1. Clear out the clutter in your mind

Our mind is rather like a vacuum cleaner. It ‘sucks up’ worries, unresolved problems, un-tackled concerns and stores them all. It starts out with simple things: you feel resentful about something at work, then your mum lets you down. Silent cries of how dare they and poor me whirr around in your head going nowhere. As with a vacuum cleaner our concerns and problems are all the bits of ‘dust’ we accumulate and this can leave us stressed, burdened and stuck. We need to keep emptying that ‘vacuum cleaner’, to clear the anxiety regularly out of our mind, so that we feel lighter and have more clarity about our lives. So the first step is to get it off your chest:

Here’s how it works. Pick up your pen, get some paper and start pouring your heart out. I call this technique the ‘Agony Aunt’ method because it’s like spilling out all your feelings and thoughts to someone who is going to listen and not judge you. Write about all the niggles and worries that are getting you down. Don’t hold back - give yourself permission to say how bad everything really is. You’ll gain immediate release and relief, as though a weight has being lifted from your shoulders.

Whilst this method is an excellent means of clearing out day-to-day worries and muddle, it will also help you to get a better overview of what is going on. Quite often, you may be so involved in responding to a particular event, or feeling burdened with certain intense emotions, that you lose sight of the broader context. Things can then get out of perspective. You are no longer thinking straight. By writing about what is bothering you, until you get to the point where it is all out in the open, you can step back, take a breath and consolidate. You’ll see things you didn’t notice before, because you had your head down, buried in the thick of it.

The 'Agony Aunt' method looks something like this:

I’m feeling really awful today - not sure why - just flat and fed-up. I had a good evening yesterday with Paul, so I don’t think it’s anything to do with him. But something doesn’t feel right - why can’t I just be happy? I feel like there is something wrong with me. I’ve been feeling like this a lot recently, ever since... yes, I think that’s it - ever since I said I’d move in with Paul. There’s something not right about it and I don’t know why... (Stephanie, Aromatherapist, aged 31)

In her journal entry, Stephanie struggles to discover and name what she is feeling. Then something emerges for Stephanie from her writing that she did not know before. Once she starts to trace back her feelings, she can see when things changed for the worse. At this stage, she still does not know exactly what the trouble is, but she knows what it is connected with. She has clues now, a starting point in order to get to the bottom of what’s bothering her.

2. Sum it up

Once you have written down your thoughts and feelings add a conclusion or summing up. This is a way of drawing together what you have written and taking an overview. For example, you may realise that your writing focuses on issues with one particular person, or you may notice that you keep repeating the same destructive patterns of behaviour.

3. Take Action

After your summing up, add ‘Action Points’ for yourself, now that you have a better idea about what is going on. Add constructive ideas of how you might tackle the problems you have written about. Ask yourself: If I could make this situation just a bit better what would I do? Add practical ideas for how things could change, outline some plans and goals - brainstorm possible improvements. Then break these ideas into smaller stages and put down the very first step you could take towards putting these changes into practice.

When we are feeling low, keeping a journal is a great form of therapy. It can lift our mood, help us to be kinder to ourselves and gear us up to find solutions to our problems. By turning worry into problem-solving you will be gaining control and getting a sense of moving forward. This will do wonders for your self-esteem! Instead of dwelling on feeling hard done by, you’ll start to build your confidence by doing something about it. If only Bridget had tried it?!
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This Post is an edited extract from  The Self-Esteem Journal: Using a journal to build Self-esteem by Alison Waines. New Edition 2013. Published here with kind permission of Sheldon Press.

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