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How Journaling Helped Me Refresh After Burnout

When I set out to start my own company in 2011, I had two major goals in mind: 1) to produce smart, engaging content on financial topics that a younger generation of (mostly) women could relate to, and 2) to hire a killer team of (mostly) women who not only always had my best interests in mind, but were also just as ambitious and smart as I was, if not more so. I (mostly) succeeded on both accounts.

But then after years of non-stop hustling and letting others control my schedule, I crashed. A major (and majorly overdue) overhaul was made to my daily schedule. My first step was to take a break from it all to get my head in a place that it could handle work and meetings again. Then, at the end of every day, I started writing a recap. I wrote down everything that was confusing, stressful, or exciting. Everything that swirled through my head went down on paper.

Daily journaling is an excellent tool for self-care. Writing what’s on your mind out on paper can help you process how you’re feeling and encourage you to focus on the positive. It also helps keep you out of brooding territory. Take a stab at writing about your day just before bed and you’ll get out any thoughts that will keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. So grab those pens, here’s how to start your own journal.

Write What You’re Grateful For.

Neuroscientists have found that practicing gratitude makes your brain happy (boosts dopamine and serotonin levels) and creates positive feedback loops. Even if you feel like you have nothing to be grateful for, the act of just searching for something to be grateful for can have positive effects. Don’t overthink it. It’s not some elaborate ceremony.

Follow Writing Prompts.

If you give yourself fill in the blanks, it will make journaling feel less overwhelming. That’s why bullet-journals are so popular. They help you create a template for each month that lets you express your mood or explain your day easily. Open a blank page in your journal and write a few prompts. Then repeat those each week. You’ll head into each day know what you want to write down at the end and thinking of ideas. Prompts can include “Three Things I’m Grateful for Today”, “Three Things I’m Excited About Today,” “Three People I’m Grateful for Today, and “One Thing I Will Do to Be of Service Today”

Get Specific

Try to think about specific moments or actions so you don’t end up repeating answers like “my family” every day. So instead of writing that you’re grateful for “my daughter,” perhaps you write that you are grateful for “the hug I gave my daughter when she got home from school.” Not only does the nuance help you stick to the practice, but it helps you notice, be present for, and savor positive moments throughout your day. (BTW: positive memories form only if you are present in the emotion of them for ten to fifteen seconds.)

At the end of the day, life can be a bed of roses if you think about what a rose really is: a blossom, thorns, and a bud. After I do my gratitude entry for the night, I like to think about my rose. What was the blossom, or the best part of my day; what was the thorn, or the worst part; and what was the bud, or the thing I’m most looking forward to seeing bloom in the future?

At the end of the day, life can be a bed of roses if you think about what a rose really is: a blossom, thorns, and a bud. Click To Tweet

These don’t have to be big things (some days, it’s “blossom: nailed my morning workout; thorn: spilled my coffee in the elevator; bud: getting a good night’s sleep”), but the metaphor provides a nice moment of reflection on the small wins and losses that are inherent each day. I like to do this after taking a trip or wrapping up a big project, too. What were the best parts, which I can celebrate and try to replicate in the future? What were the worst parts, which I can learn from and try to avoid? And what are the things I’m most looking forward to, to keep me moving, well . . . forward? After all, building a life you love means not just being grateful for where you are, but identifying what needs to change, and looking ahead to where you’re going.

A version of this article was originally published on Thrive.

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