Journaling for Resilience
They say that change is the only constant in life. Of course, the type of change and how it impacts your life is always unknown. The pandemic situation we’ve dealt with over the last two years has created a time of monumental change for all of us. To make it more challenging, many of the changes we’ve faced have occurred suddenly, with little-to-no time to prepare.
So what do you do when you find yourself in the face of adversity or a difficult situation? I recommend journaling for resilience as an outlet for the negative emotions you’re sure to have. This is a great way to forge your own path through the transition rather than being swept away by it.
In this article, we’ll dig more into this specific exercise of journaling for resilience and its power to help you navigate transitions and lead a happier life.
Table of Contents
What Is The Relation Between Change And Choice?
One of the biggest challenges with transitions or negative events is the feeling of helplessness or powerlessness they can create. You didn’t choose to have this upheaval, after all. Or maybe you did but it hasn’t gone the way you expected.
The weight of all that “unexpectedness” can seem, at times, like a giant wave crashing down upon you, keeping you from standing up again. It often leads to higher stress levels and increased blood pressure, neither of which helps address the negative effects of that stress.
The first step I’m always going to recommend in a situation like this is journaling for resilience to help choose how you want to react.
I know many people may bristle at that statement. After all, if we could choose our emotions, reactions, etc. at any given moment then wouldn’t we all just choose to be happy?
Let me be clear. Our emotions are real. Our emotional responses to hard times are normal, valid, and completely to be expected. More importantly, those responses serve a purpose – to protect us, comfort us, etc.
But regardless of what our emotional response may be, we can still choose how we react. In fact, that ability to choose our reaction is an important part of how we build resiliency to life’s changes and it’s one of the key goals of journaling for resilience.
Studies show our ability to bounce back from difficult times has a direct impact on our overall happiness. In fact, the organization, Action for Happiness, finds the positive effects of resilience to be so high that they list it as one of their 10 Keys to Happiness.
So what do I mean, exactly, when I say you can choose your reaction?
Most of us react to upheaval subconsciously. That reaction is often a direct result of our initial thoughts or feelings about the situation, which is completely understandable. But when we let that reaction stay at a subconscious level rather than a conscious level, we also allow those thoughts and feelings to happen to us rather than for us.
Choosing your reaction doesn’t necessarily mean changing your reaction. It means bringing awareness to what you’re feeling, acknowledging how that response does or doesn’t serve you, and making a conscious choice to keep that reaction or change it.
Let me share what I do to journal for resilience and, in fact, what I did a while back when I had a situation to work through. I won’t share the specifics of my situation, for a number of reasons, but I think you’ll get the gist. One of the most important things to know is that I did this writing exercise soon after finding out about the difficult situation, when I had only limited information available.
You may often find yourself in a similar situation, so know that this writing exercise can be done any time you need it, and it doesn’t take much time to complete.
What Are Some Journaling Questions?
I’ll start with sharing the questions and answers I used when journaling for resilience in this difficult situation. This dynamic process served to help me organize my thoughts.
The questions are in italics with the answers in plain text to differentiate between them. Hopefully you’ll see the progression of how one set of questions and answers feeds into the next:
- What can I control right now?
- How I react
- What I do next
- How I let whatever happens next impact other aspects of my life
- How do I want to react? (Note: There’s a ton of value in detailing what you mean for each answer here. In this example from my personal life, I’ve provided a modified versions of the clarifying statements I used, but you can see how each fleshed out statement provides another layer to what I was thinking and feeling in the moment):
- By taking responsibility – I made a mistake. I own that and I can’t change it now but I can learn from it.
- With self-forgiveness – The mistake I made was understandable and easy to make, given the circumstances. I am human and it’s okay to make mistakes, even big ones.
- With acceptance – What happened has happened. It’s a horrible situation, and I’m angry and frustrated about it but I can’t change it. I accept that, along with anything that happens as a result of it.
- With grace – Everyone involved in this will make the best decision they can with the information that’s available to them. I will accept those decisions with respect and grace.
- With hope and faith – I know who I am and the value I bring. Mistakes like this are a rare occurrence for me so I will have hope and faith that the good I’ve done in the past will outweigh this mistake. If it doesn’t, then I have hope and faith that all of this is happening for a reason.
- What do I want to do next?
- I won’t list my answers here because they were specific to this private situation, but I literally made a list of everything I could think of that could be potential next steps based on how I’d chosen to react. Then I put them in order of priority and began knocking them off one-by-one once I had finished journaling.
- How do I want to let whatever happens next impact other aspects of my life?
- I want it to have the least impact possible.
- Where can I anticipate unintended impact happening? (Note: I had several answers here but I’ve shared one as an example)
- My biggest concern is my health. I’ve been trying to eat better and work out more but this is a high-stress situation and I know those are often the first things to drop when I’m stressed.
- So what can I do to ensure those stay on track and don’t make the situation worse?
- I know that eating unhealthy and NOT working out would ultimately increase my stress, not decrease it, so I need to focus on pre-logging my food, as I’ve been doing, and taking time each night to plan the next day’s workout so I don’t fall off track.
- What’s the worst that could happen as a result of this?
- (After answering the above question) If that were to happen, what would I do?
Now that I’ve walked through that real resilience journal example, let me hit on a few key points.
Obviously, the questions for your situation, especially the follow-up questions, may be very different. However, there are a few journal prompts that can probably be used across the majority of situations when you’re journaling for resilience. Some of them are reflected above but I’ve compiled a full list below that you can pick and choose from, as applicable:
- What can I control?
- How do I want to react?
- How do I want to let this impact (or not impact) other areas of my life/job/relationship/situation/etc.?
- How does this situation jive (or not jive) with my values and what’s most important to me?
- If it doesn’t jive with my values then what can I change to get more alignment?
- How does this situation take me closer or further from what’s most important to me?
- If it takes me further then how can I change that or what action do I want to take?
- How can I make this situation help me?
- What thoughts am I having right now?
- What feelings am I having right now?
- How are those thoughts and feelings serving or not serving me?
- If they’re not serving me then what are some new thoughts or feelings I might want to have that would serve me more?
- What’s the worst that can happen?
- What would I do if that did happen?
- What do I want to do next?
How Does Journaling For Resilience Help?
There have been a lot of recent studies done about the promising effects of positive writing and other expressive writing interventions, like keeping a gratitude journal. In fact, a recent article posted at the National Library of Medicine goes in depth on a number of studies being done with higher education students, who have been found to be particularly susceptible to higher stress levels and mental health challenges.
The scientific results of these studies showed that frequent use of journal interventions led to a significant increase to students resilience over a relatively short period.
And while this is something that can definitely be beneficial with daily use, it can also be an effective means to boost resilience in unique circumstances.
In the personal example I shared above, I was eager to change my reaction and find a different way to think about it. I had just been made aware of the situation in question and I was panicking, my mind was spinning, and I couldn’t think straight because of all the negative emotions swirling through me.
I knew I needed to have a productive reaction quickly and, therefore, letting myself “sit” in that spin cycle would not serve me.
Completing this exercise brought a level of relief that is indescribable. If that was the only value I found from journaling for resilience, that would have been enough. More than that, though, my journal made significant differences in how I handled what remained of the challenging situation I faced.
In my example, I started this exercise crying, feeling hopeless, and uncertain about what would happen next. By the time I finished, my tears were dry, I was breathing normally, and felt prepared to face what was happening. Working through these journal prompts had made room for more positive emotions to come in, like hope and confidence.
No matter what occurred next, I had a firm grip on what I could control and I was determined to hold on to that. I also had actionable items I could do right away to keep myself from lingering too long in the negative feelings that had overwhelmed me.
Even though this had a dramatic impact on how quickly I moved through this change and how much it impacted me, it did still impact me.
I still spent the next several days in tears. I still beat myself up. I still experienced anger, frustration, despair, hopelessness, etc. I still experienced all of that because I’m human.
It’s completely normal for us to have these emotions and to truly feel it when something unexpected happens in our lives.
However, when those negative emotions surfaced, I also had this incredible resilience journal exercise to go back to remind me of the bigger picture. So, I could remind myself to be forgiving; I could remind myself to maintain hope; and I could remind myself that I had a plan.
You Have The Power To Be Your Own Solution
No matter who you are or what change you’re going through, I hope this helps you manage your mental health and your own building of resilience through journaling. Think of it as one more possible way to achieve greater life satisfaction, even in the darkest of times.
Of course, if you’re not seeing your resilience change as quickly as you’d like, I’m just a click away and ready to offer my support. You can always email me at email@example.com or schedule a consultation to learn more about how I can partner with you with this or other appropriate interventions that might help you get where you want to be.
We all need some help every now and then.
Until next time, be safe, happy, and well!