May 20, 2020

5 Tips on Using Writing to Ground Ourselves during times of Stress.

Ever since sheltering-in-place started, I’ve felt a constant, low-level anxiety that I just can’t seem to shake.

It’s not like I don’t have legitimate things to be anxious about—helping to homeschool my stepkids, working from home while my partner works from home, wondering what summer is going to be like without sports camps or our annual family vacation, and stressing about financial concerns during the worst economy in the history of the United States.

Given the state of our lives, you may also be feeling perpetually unsettled, like you’re flitting from one thing to another but never really forming a connection or immersing yourself in something. One of the best ways to reduce the sensation of being untethered or disconnected is through grounding, which allows you to create space and separate yourself from distressing thoughts or feelings.

Grounding involves stepping back from what’s happening inside of you to focus instead on the present moment. You’re not reliving the past, and you’re not worrying about the future. You’re simply existing, right here, right now, in this moment.

There are countless grounding techniques out there, but one of my favorites is writing.

According to scientists, writing has been found to reduce anxiety and depression, improve immune system functioning, and help people manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It also improves memory and jumpstarts creativity. Now, perhaps more than ever before, we need healthy, effective coping mechanisms as we navigate these unprecedented times.

The next time you feel overwhelmed, on-edge, or unable to focus, consider using writing to ground yourself by trying the following:

Choose the medium that works best for you. Some people swear by a journal and pen, but others prefer a document on their computer, or a journaling app such as Day One, Five Minute Journal, or Daylio. It’s really about what you connect with, because if it feels like work, chances are you won’t make writing a priority.

Set aside 15-20 minutes to be by yourself. This might be aspirational, especially if you have young children and are the sole caregiver in the house, but do your best and don’t worry if you have to start with five minutes and work your way up to more time while the kids nap or watch a show. If your alone time isn’t dictated by your children’s schedule, pick a time that works best for you…meaning, if you’re not usually a morning person, don’t set the unrealistic expectation that you’re going to journal before sunrise every day. Some people like to journal before bed to reflect on their day, and others like to write as they have their morning coffee or tea. There’s no wrong time to write, and while journaling at the same time can be helpful in establishing a new habit, it’s no big deal if the time you write changes. After all, life still happens, even during a pandemic.

Write about whatever you want. Some people find that writing about the things they’re grateful for helps them feel more present and centered. Others enjoy writing poems or short descriptions of things they saw out the window or on a walk. Others prefer responding to the same prompts every day, such as “Today I feel…” and “Today I am thinking about…” The Center for Journal Therapy suggests using the acronym “WRITE” to guide your entries:

>> W—What topic? It can be whatever you want.
>> R—Review/reflect on how you’re feeling/doing before you start writing.
>> I—Investigate your thoughts and feelings by putting them on the page.
>> T—Time yourself by setting an alarm.
>> E—Exit your journaling by reading over what you wrote.

Resist the urge to edit. Writing in a journal isn’t about correct spelling, punctuation, or sentence structure. It’s an opportunity to spend time with yourself, to be honest about where you are and how you’re doing, and in order to create a welcoming environment that encourages you to bare your soul, you need to feel safe. That means not critiquing yourself or getting so caught up with writing “correct” sentences that you censor or limit your writing. Your journal isn’t an English assignment, so focus more on simply getting your thoughts out and less on what the finished product actually looks like.

Be patient with yourself. It’s never easy to try something new, much less when your entire life has been turned upside down, so be patient as you start using writing to ground yourself. You may not write every single day, and that’s okay. Some days you may struggle to find time and other days, you may struggle to find words. It takes time to establish a new habit, so don’t beat yourself up if writing doesn’t effortlessly become a part of your quarantined life. Just like anything else you do consistently, writing in your journal will get easier over a period of days and weeks. Eventually, you’ll even start to look forward to it, much like how we look forward to yoga or meditation or other activities that reduce stress and make us feel better.

Writing can be a wonderful way to reduce anxiety and ground ourselves in times of uncertainty, and it’s easy and inexpensive to get started. Give it a try, and see what works for you. Happy writing and happy grounding!

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