Finding well-being in writing

By Dede Montgomery, MS, CIH

A few times my work-related interests and lessons have spilled into my personal blog. Yes, as my friends and colleagues know, I love to write. Today’s blog, however, might be a first where my personal interest in writing spills into this Oregon and the Workplace Blog. With all the news we are being pelted with at this moment regarding concerns and recommended restrictions and practices for how we live as related to COVID-19, perhaps this spillage makes sense.

I have shared before to friends, how the best thing that happened to me in mid-life has been a rediscovery of my passion to write. In work events I have even related my experience to Total Worker Health®: for it is by having brain space and energy outside of work, I have had the opportunity to pursue this writing passion during my non-work time. This passion of mine has not only fostered my personal growth, but it has helped me to be a better person, friend, colleague, and employee. It saddens me to realize how many in today’s workforce, by working too many hours (often at lower wages), having little choice, or working in an overly stressful environment, may not have the ability to find such passion.

Like people around the world now, we are facing cancellations of events and opportunities: some we have perhaps really looked forward to. For the health of our public, we must embrace these prudent practices to limit the spread of this virus that is particularly of concern to people vulnerable by increased age and health status, and to protect our health care system. One event I was especially excited about attending, was a rejuvenation session I was to lead at the 2020 Oregon Educators Wellness Conference later this month, sponsored by our partner OEA Choice. My session was titled Journaling for Personal Growth and Well-Being. The conference, like so many, has now been cancelled.

At the outset, I admit I am not an expert on this topic, although I have journaled my entire life. More recently I have also found writing as a way to work through my dad’s death by publishing a memoir, followed by completing two additional books. I was thinking about this today, and with the need for many of us to hunker down and follow practices to limit the spread of COVID-19, it is also an opportunity to look for ways to enhance our well-being in light of so much that is worrisome. Perhaps we are lucky enough to take more time for conversations with close friends and family (imagining virtual options when necessary), and experience alone time in nature: practices that we know improve our well-being. Our friends in well-being remind us that journaling, self-care, and practicing kindness toward others can be among the best mood boosters. Something we all need right now. And while it is important to stay informed on science-based, factual news, we also need to know when to turn it off. Catch up on reading. And perhaps, it is the time to experiment with journaling, whether you’ve done it before or not.

Since I won’t be giving my talk later this month, here’s a few tips on journaling you may find helpful.

  • The good thing about journaling is that there are no rules. After a time, we are likely to find what works best for each of us.
  • What we know is that the therapeutic benefits of journaling have been proven by many. It can be an effective tool for stress management, the processing of difficult emotions, and creating personal growth. Some have also found its practice linked to important health benefits and to counteract the negative effects of stress.
  • For many people, having a specific journal of some type is useful. For me (as you can see in the image above), spiral notebooks have been my “go-to.” But others find it important to have something they find aesthetically pleasing.
  • Setting aside time can be difficult for all of us, so find something that works for you. I have done a lot of writing on the back of a Tri-Met bus, which may not work for everyone. Find a window that seems like a good time to take a few moments. While finding regularity in the beginning might be important to “get in the swing of it,” those who already know the power of journaling might do so sporadically.
  • Just write. Don’t overthink it, or be judgmental of its quality or importance. It is for you and nobody else. If you don’t know what to write about, there are many great websites with prompts – see one below.
  • Try to write about your feelings, not just to vent. When we write about emotional issues, research shows we get more benefit if we look at them from an emotional and mental framework.
  • If you have fears about someone reading your journal (regardless of what you write about), take measures to protect it so you can feel free to express what you are writing or working through. (In college I had a class that mandated keeping a journal. I already had kept one regularly from childhood. Although the professor promised just to “check off that writing was done” rather than read it, I had no trust and began keeping two entirely different journals. I also later had a boyfriend read a journal, which was devastating.)

We all need to be good to ourselves, each other, and our loved ones in this time ahead. Experiment with what works best for you to increase your well-being, without giving yourself “another thing you have to do.” This just might be the very time to dust off that journal you started long ago, or start off on a new journey.

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