Journaling Ideas for a Busy Schedule

Journaling Benefits

I love journaling. Or to be more specific, I love the benefits I receive from journaling. Among many other benefits, journaling always calms me down when I feel stressed. Even if I only journal for 10 minutes, I always come away from it feeling supported, like I’ve just talked with a trusted friend. And most of the time, along with the stress reduction, I gain fresh perspective and insights that sometimes surprise me and always are helpful.

Meaningful Journaling on a Busy Schedule

Because I, like most people, don’t have a lot of time to spend on journaling, I want to make the most of the time I do have. That is why I love using sentence stems. A sentence stem is essentially a half finished sentence, for example: “What I really wanted to say to Susan was……” Sentence stems help focus your journaling around issues or ideas that you want to explore or understand better. Sentence stems can also help you solve problems that you feel stuck on.

What I find works best is to choose a sentence stem that strikes a chord, and then to spend 10-15 minutes writing about it. Write fast without stopping; don’t lift your pen from the page; don’t censor yourself. If you don’t know what to write, just write “blah, blah, blah….” until the thoughts come – then let it rip!

The reason why you want to write like this is because it allows you to bypass your inner critic and makes room for your subconscious thoughts and feelings to surface. This is where the real juice is. Practice this kind of writing for a while, and you will be amazed at the insights and answers you get to questions or problems in your life.

Some advice:

Keep your journal in a private place where only you will find it. This will allow you to let your thoughts flow uncensored.

Enjoy your journaling. This is a time to spend quality time with yourself. Be curious. Explore. There are no right or wrong ways to journal so enjoy the process and see what unfolds!

Some Sentence Stems

Below are some sentence stems to get you started. 

What I really wanted to say was.....

My heart tells me to....

My biggest fear is....

I am grateful for....

I feel misunderstood when....

Deep down I know....

I am beautiful because....

I worry too much about....

I get stuck because....

I am happiest when....

My secret dream is....

If I were a super hero I would....

As you can see, the sky is the limit with sentence stems.  Now you've got the hang of it, experiment with some stems of your own.


Questioning our Feelings

 The other day I was out walking with a friend, who told me about a class she had taken about mindfulness and fear.  One of the questions they asked in the class was, “who is it (in me) that is feeling this fear?”  I think that is such a useful question to ask, and it can be extrapolated to a number of situations in life.

“Who is it in me that’s stressed?”  “Who is it in me that’s worried?”  “Who is it in me that wants this second piece of chocolate cake?”  When we only feel the stress or the worry or the craving it is easy to just react to the feeling, which isn’t always productive.  When we ask the question we disidentify from the feeling and the feeling loses some of its power over us.

The question helps us begin to understand where the feeling comes from and the reason behind it.  Perhaps we’re stressed not just because we have a new presentation coming up at work, but also because we have a belief that if we don’t please everyone we will be abandoned.  When we recognize that our work stress and our core belief about abandonment have become intertwined we can then separate them.  We can begin to question if our core belief is really true and give support and acceptance to the part of ourselves that fears abandonment.  Doing so, we free up energy to focus on what we need to do to create a presentation we feel proud of.

Five Minute Stress Relief

You’ve just gotten home from a long day at work and all you want to do is kick your feet up and relax, but the dog is whining to be walked, the kids are hungry, there’s wet laundry in the washer and your partner forgot to pick up tonight’s dinner fixings at the store.  This or your own (fill in the blank) version of a crazy, hectic day can leave you feeling like the world is spinning waaay too fast.  All you want to do is go hide your head somewhere, but you can’t. 

Thankfully, there is a 5 minute (5 minutes only!) exercise you can do that can help you relax and feel more human again.

The simple breathing technique I’m going to share with you is one that you can do at your desk, in your (parked) car, or even in the restroom if you have to disappear for a few minutes so your coworkers don’t give you funny looks.

The Exercise

I got this from “Relax Into Your Being”, by B.K. Frantzis.  It is a wonderful book about Taoist meditation and qi gong practices.  I find this exercise very relaxing and I like how calm I feel after doing it.  I’ve adapted it slightly.

1. Sit comfortably with your feet placed on the ground in front of you.  Relax your shoulders; notice your buttocks in the chair and your feet on the ground.  Keeping your mouth closed, place your tongue at the roof of your mouth and relax your face.

2. Bring your attention to your breath as it travels in and out of your nostrils.  Really notice the sensations of your breath moving in and out of your nostrils, even down to the movement of your nose hairs.  Take your time doing this and don’t worry if you get it “right” or not; just notice what you notice.

3. Once you have experienced those sensations, slowly notice your breath as it continues to enter into your body.  Notice the sensations as it moves from your nostrils and into your throat.  Follow the flow of your breath as it moves into your chest and into your lungs.  Feel the line of your breath as it moves into your belly and down to your belly button and finally down to your lower dan tien*, which is the area roughly half way between your belly button and your genitals.  Do not speed through this.  Give yourself time to really feel the sensation of your breath in each of these areas before you move to the next area.  The main goal isn’t to reach the lower dan tien, but instead to feel the sensation of your breath in each of these areas as it moves on down.  If you don’t reach your lower dan tien on the first try or even the tenth try, that is fine.  Give yourself time to feel the sensations and relax into the exercise.  Don’t push yourself.  Eventually you will reach your lower dan tien.  And again, don’t worry if you do it “right” or not, just follow the instructions as best you can and notice what you notice and you’ll do great.

4. Continue with this exercise for 5 or 10 minutes, really feeling the sensations of your breath as it travels through each of these areas.  If you want, see if you can take longer breaths while doing the exercise, but again, don’t push yourself.  This exercise is about relaxing and feeling your breath.  Even if you just do the exercise for two minutes, that is good.  Again, the exercise is about relaxing and feeling your breath.

5. When you are ready to stop, sit for a moment and breath normally.  Notice your feet on the ground and your buttocks in the chair.  Bring your awareness back to the room in which you are sitting.  When you are ready, return to your day.

*The lower dan tien is an area about 4 finger breadths below the belly button, in the center of the body.  It is considered, in Chinese philosophy, to be the seat or focal point of one’s internal energy or qi, and is utilized frequently during meditation and qi gong practices.


Stress Relief with Acupuncture

I think this guy needs some acupuncture...

I think this guy needs some acupuncture...

Some time ago, a patient came in with a headache, shoulder pain, nausea, stomach pain, and no appetite. She had been suffering from these problems for the previous three months, and was hoping for some relief.   As we talked it seemed that she felt a lot of stress, both from work as well as family responsibilities.  

After talking with the patient and doing the Chinese diagnostics of looking at the tongue and palpating the pulse, I diagnosed her with “Liver qi constraint”, a very common syndrome, and one closely related to stress.  The headaches, shoulder tension and digestive problems, which she also experienced, are also commonly seen with “Liver qi constraint”.  The acupuncture treatment focused on moving and soothing her "Liver qi".

When she returned for her second treatment, she was about 90% symptom-free!  I gave her another acupuncture treatment, focusing on the same principles, and had her come back the following week.  When she returned, she said she had felt great all week.  No headaches, good appetite and no digestive problems. Needless to say, I was was she.

We all know that stress has an effect on our health.  Based on my years of experience as a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I would say, without reservation, that stress is a factor in almost every ailment a person presents with.   Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are wonderful modalities for helping to manage stress and strengthen the body’s ability to deal with it.  

While it is rare to see such a quick turn around, as in the patient above, it is always rewarding for a practitioner and, of course, wonderful for the patient.  In this case, all of this patient’s problems were caused by stress; hers was a classic case of "Liver qi constraint".  Acupuncture helped to regulate and smooth the qi in her channels, thereby relieving the stress and the effects it had had on her body.  As all health starts at an energetic level, once her Liver qi was flowing properly again, her symptoms went away.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.


A Simple Tip to Reduce Stress

We all know that stress can have a negative impact on our health and lives. But how can we not just manage stress, but minimize it so that it doesn’t run the show?

I have found that learning how I react to stress, both physically and emotionally, as well as noticing my thought patterns, is a great first step towards minimizing stressful feelings.

Study the ways you react to stress 

Do your shoulders tighten up and start creeping towards your ears?
Does your head start to ache?
Do you get a knotted feeling in your belly?
Do you hold your breath?
Do you eat more sweets or drink more wine?
Do your thoughts speed up or do you just want to take a nap?
Do you feel more prone to angry outbursts or crying?
Do you feel anxious, worried or impatient?

These are just some of the ways you might react to feeling stressed out.

All of us have a patterned response to stress. Once we recognize our particular pattern, we can then start to notice the precursors to our stress reactions. For example, if we know our shoulders get tight, we can make a point to notice how they feel throughout the day. If we know our minds race we can notice if our thoughts are speeding up and taking on a worried tone, or if they're staying steady and even-keeled. Noticing our reactions and their precursors are the beginning to getting a handle on stress.

How Does Studying Our Stress-Reactions Help?

When we know our stress-response, it is easier to catch ourselves moving into stress mode, before it becomes full-blown.  We can then take a moment to step back and breathe for a few moments.  Then we can assess what is triggering the stress response.   We can look at the situation, and look at our thoughts and feelings about the situation, because our thoughts and feelings are generally what stress us out, not the situation itself.

Once we know what our thoughts and feelings about the situation are, we can decide if they are relevant for the situation or not. Once we’ve determined that, then we can decide how we want to move forward.

An Example

One simple example might be needing to bring a main dish to a potluck on a Friday night. You promised to bring the dish, but the week wound up getting crazy and the potluck is now in 2 hours and you have nothing prepared. You’re stressed out because you promised to cook a main dish and feel like a guilty wimp who can't get her act together.  A simple solution, of course, would be to get “take out”, but you don’t like that idea. You decide to ask yourself why you don’t like the idea and realize you feel ashamed at the thought of bringing “take out”. You ask yourself why that idea makes you feel ashamed. You remember that your mother placed a high value on cooking meals and thought that buying “take out” for her family was lazy and showed a lack of care.  

Ah so.  Now that you understand where your feelings of shame come from, you have more room for self-compassion AND to make choices, rather than just react to thoughts and feelings.  Whether you decide to quickly cook something or to get "take-out" is irrelevant.  The important thing is that you can now make that decision from a more grounded, aware place that honors both your needs as well as your commitments.  Of course, this is a very simplistic example, but the process can be applied to any number of situations.

While cultivating an awareness of our reactions and thought patterns around stressful situations can really help us minimize stressful feelings, it’s really important to reach out for extra support when needed. Talk to trusted friends or family members; find a counselor; come in for acupuncture.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.