We human beings have both a hunger and a fundamental need to listen to our own inner worlds while paying attention to our outer worlds, in order to enhance our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. It is a learned skill to attend to one’s inner life and to practice the art of self-awareness. Reflective journaling helps us slow down so that we can listen, breath, notice and simply be.
“It is easier, sometimes to become focused on the healing of our outer lives, of the world, than it is to look at the need for healing our inner lives.” Susan Borkin, Author of When Your Heart Speaks Take Good Notes: The Healing Power of Writing.
I started my social work career working within high stress and often high trauma roles including as a child welfare social worker, a crisis response counselor, and as a medical social worker. I really loved my work; it was fast paced, interesting, diverse and meaningful to make a positive difference in someone’s life on a regular basis.
As a young social worker, I became very aware of the occupational hazard of professional burnout. I saw a number of colleagues go off on “stress leave” and some of them never returned to their careers or they came back for a short time and would “leave” again. By the time I was thirty-years-old, I had lost three social work colleagues to suicide. I started asking myself and others too; “Is it possible to do this type of work and stay grounded, healthy and happy while serving the growth and well-being needs of others? Or is emotional suffering, burnout and compassion fatigue the unavoidable outcomes of a career where high emotion, empathy and the frequent witnessing of human suffering are present?”
I realized that the answer to this question had to come from inside myself and so I turned to my journal for answers. I wrote about how I felt and what I experienced each day. I wrote about sitting with Ian, a man on the palliative care unit. I held his hand while he took his last breath. He had no family left. I wrote about the 18 year-old boy who was on his way to pick up his girlfriend after work. He was running late and went through an icy 4-way stop. His vehicle was hit by a truck and he died instantly. I held his mom while the police told her that her son was killed. At the end of every work day, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.
I realized I was instinctively writing to heal from all the pain and suffering that I witnessed due to the nature of my work. To heal means to make whole. I was writing myself whole, again and again.
Now, many years have passed since my early years as a crisis response social worker. Nonetheless, to this day, reflective journaling continues to be a practice that nourishes me, grounds me and keeps me mindful within my daily experiences as a mother, a wife, and a daughter to aging parents, as well as an entrepreneur and so on. I still write to heal. I write to come home within myself.
Our Collective Story
As heart-centered women, most of us fill many roles both personally and professionally where we are caring for the needs and well-being of others. As women, that is what we do – we care, we nurture, we connect, we listen, we bear witness. Reflective journaling is a practice and tool that allows you to savour your lived experiences. Regular journal writing helps you hear the whispers of wisdom within you and it helps you hear what needs to be heard.
As women, our emotional and psychological health benefit from having meaningful and consistent self-care practices that allow for self-discovery. Self-reflection facilitates personal growth through fostering new insights, learning and “aha moments” that can improve our lives and inspire our gifts.
Reflective journaling can help you replenish and serve whole heartedly with the gifts you’ve been given. Journaling is like meditating with a pen in your hand. You show up fully. You slow down. You breathe. You trust. You surrender. You question. You listen deeply. You witness. You let go. You renew.
Where to start with reflective journal writing? Whether you are an avid journal writer, someone who used to journal and got away from it, or have never written in a journal before…
“There is a Spanish proverb which says: there is no road, we make the road as we walk. I would say the same thing about journal writing: we make the path as we write.” Christina Baldwin, Author of Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest. In other words, just begin. Writing will lead the way. Whatever you write is right!
7 Ways to Enhance your Health, Well-Being & Personal Growth through Reflective Journaling
1. Unwind and relax after a busy day – you can show up to your journal with the intention of relaxing and renewing. Start your journal with this prompt: What do I most need in this moment to relax and renew…
2. Debrief your emotional reactions after challenging or difficult situations you might encounter in your personal and/or professional life. Deepen your self-awareness by noticing your own reactions, beliefs, attitudes and patterns of behaviour. During this difficult situation, I noticed that I felt…
3. Capture stories from your day, from your life that inspire, motivate or move you – write them down. Nourish your mind, body, heart and spirit with words, ideas, poems, images, quotations, and affirmations – the journal can be a playground for all of these things.
4. Explore career/life decisions you might be making. Use the following decisional balance tool in your journal to explore your decision: What are the positives of things changing? What are the positives of things staying the same? What are the negatives of things changing? What are the negatives of things staying the same? You can put this into a 4-quadrant table and see what insights emerge that can inform the decision you are making.
5. Connect with what is feeling meaningful and rewarding to you within your life and work.
What is meaningful to me about my life is…
What is meaningful to me about my work is…
Note: The more connected we are to a sense of meaning and purpose in our work and our lives the less likely we are to burnout.
6. Brainstorm your goals and set intentions for your health, your work, your relationships, or any other aspect of your daily life. Make a list of all of your goals and then number them in order of priority. What is most important? Where do you want to put your energy and time?
According to Henriette Anne Klauser, Author of Write It Down, Make It Happen: Knowing What You Want – And Getting It! shows how writing down your goals and intentions is the first step in achieving them.
7. Honour gratitude – list 5 things you are grateful for at the end of each day. What you focus on grows!
Your journal can be a creative, soulful and nourishing space that supports you in every way. A journal will lovingly hold whatever you choose to embrace within it! I have grown to believe that how we show up on the page is how we show up in our lives. When you can allow more gratitude, joy, curiosity, energy, vitality, hope, patience and whatever else you might want more of in your life – to have consistent residence in your journal – these same virtues can have a deeper presence in your life and work.
Reflective journaling can remind you that you are enough! As one of my favourite authors says, “We have to accept ourselves in order to write. Now none of us does that fully; few of us do it even halfway. Don’t wait for one hundred percent acceptance of yourself before you write, or even eight percent acceptance. Just write. The process of writing is an activity that teaches us about acceptance.” Natalie Goldberg, Author of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.