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I’ve been trying to say it in a way that hasn’t already been said, but I don’t think I’m going to have any luck, so I’ll just say it: things are so incredibly uncertain right now.
Our circumstances are unprecedented in so many ways; we’re living through a unique period of history. The situations we’ve found ourselves in are unfamiliar and uncomfortable and downright scary.
And it’s okay to say it’s impacting our mental health.
We’re worried about our family and friends that we want to stay healthy and safe from COVID-19. We’re worried about our jobs and finances and how we’re going to manage while the economy has been affected so terribly. Many people are still at home, dealing with isolation, boredom, a complete disruption of their prior normal routines. Many have to go back to work now after everything was shaken up and in many cases broken down. There’s social unrest, and we’re being called to take action and stand up against injustices.
There are many memes floating around the internet joking about what else can possibly happen this year that’s not even half over yet.
But behind the jokes and the memes, the question of “what now?” is staring back.
I’m personally not going back to the job I was at prior to quarantine. There hasn’t been much difference in my days for a while, and knowing things will remain that way even longer makes it harder to stay positive. I think it’s because when one day blends into the next, I don’t have to think much, and I’m left to ruminate on all the craziness happening.
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I’m not focusing on, well, anything. So my brain fills itself up with less-than-optimistic thoughts.
It isn’t surprising that the effects of the global situation go beyond physical health concerns and that the negative repercussions have unfortunately slithered into our minds.
Physical and mental health are absolutely connected. But even though it makes sense, it doesn’t make coping any easier.
And for me, it got more complicated when I realized things are yet again changing as we attempt to get back to collect ourselves and get back to whatever semblance of normal we can get to. It feels confusing.
I started thinking about ways to process this whole thing. Ways to cope with the chaos and hopefully make it easier for myself.
Why Journaling Can Help
Coping requires effort. And journaling is a way to put in that effort and get a big return on the investment.
There’s so much that’s happened in the world in the last few months, and that doesn’t even take into account all that’s happened inside our own minds. Even if it can sometimes feel like all we’ve done is wait out the storms, doing just that is more involved than we first think.
Journaling is a way to unpack all of that “more involved” stuff, to get everything that you’ve actually been doing and surviving and managing out onto a physical entity (or a digital medium, if you prefer) and make it tangible enough for you to point at and go “that’s what I’ve been dealing with” so you can ask how it is you really feel about it…and then give yourself credit for it.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes struggle to truly comprehend things that aren’t concrete. Putting something in concrete terms is another step my brain has to do while processing my emotions. Journaling takes out the middleman.
Beyond that, journaling can be very meditative.
When I get going, I’m often not paying attention to what I’m writing. Things just come out. And while that might seem counterintuitive, I’ve made some of my best self-discoveries when I wasn’t expecting to, when I was simply getting my thoughts out through my fingers and letting a page absorb them and hold them for me.
If journaling isn’t a common practice for you, but you’re struggling to heal from the craziness that’s going on, answering pre-posed questions or thinking about an idea that’s already been picked out is an easy way to get started.
Journal Prompts to Help You Mentally Heal From 2020
Journal Prompt #1: How has it felt to give and receive love this year?
We’ve been alone in so many ways lately. So for many, reaching out to friends or family members has meant more than it ever did before. Being stuck inside with an amount of human interaction far below normal can take a major toll on mental health. I know for me, being alone means more time to ruminate on negatives and let boredom overtake me. But a simple “hey, how are you” goes a long way to end those thoughts in their tracks and bring a feel-good smile to my face, proving just how powerful human connection is.
Whenever someone reaches out to me lately, I feel so thankful because it’s a reminder that I matter, that I’m important to the people in my life. It makes me happy. I try to return the good energy, too. I’ve been making an effort to call my 91-year-old grandfather frequently. I can’t visit him in person because he’s in such a high-risk population, but for him to know I’m still thinking about him and sending him love is important. To both of us.
I think it’s important to write down how connecting to people during a crisis makes you feel. Because to me, working on connections and relationships has been the most important part of the quarantine and this “new normal” that we’re coming into now.
Taking time to acknowledge the love you’ve given and received might help put things into a better perspective, might help you focus on the positives, and help you begin to heal from the damage that loneliness might have done to you.
Journal Prompt #2: What were six things that made you smile over the last six months?
Writing this journal was particularly fun for me because I’ve had an interesting first half of the year even without considering the state of the world. I was in a rough place at the beginning of 2020 and it only started to get better around March, right about when we were quarantined. As I thought about something good that each month brought, I had to dig deep and get creative as well as rethink how I viewed some things. It kind of forced me into positive thinking retroactively, which I found easier than being positive at the time.
There’s no question that optimism is healthy, and looking back to find it seems to have had the same healthy effect on my current mindset. Plus, it was easier for me because there was no pressure. I knew I’d survived the tough first few months of this year, so there was no reason for me to succeed in finding the good.
The things that made you smile this year might be big, important, or profound, like reaching a major achievement or the birth of a child. They might also be small, seemingly mundane things that had you smiling when you hadn’t even realized you were.
I found my example of that was the crazy evenings pacing the halls of the psychiatric inpatient unit with the people who became my temporary family as we laughed in spite of our rather difficult circumstances.
In what was a terribly stressful and confusing time for me, the random bouts of loud and genuine laughter on those nights ensured I stayed true to who I am inside: a fighter with a passion for living.
I didn’t realize this about myself until I took time to process the thoughts that had built up over these last months.
Journal Prompt #3: In what ways are you proud of yourself right now?
When I stumbled across this rather typical journal prompt, I initially skipped over it. The most obvious thing to be proud of right now, for all of us, is managing during the world crises. And what good would it do to be proud of something like that? We have no choice but to manage, to survive, to continue.
But that got me thinking: why should that mean that I shouldn’t be proud of myself for it? Haven’t I learned through treatment programs and therapy to celebrate every victory, no matter how small? Haven’t I realized that doing so increases my self-esteem and confidence enough to carry me through my next challenge?
So think about it. What have you done to adjust to the changes that have taken place? How have you practiced self-care? In what ways, big or small, have you overcome the difficulties of this time?
You’ve likely done more than you’re giving yourself credit for throughout this year’s insanity. Writing down each thing, no matter how small it may seem, is a great way to stir up the pride inside of you that you deserve to feel.
Journal Prompt #4: How have the last six months affected you? Be honest with yourself.
I know many people who are fighting through the craziness trying to appear tough and strong and unbothered. But journaling is a way to allow our vulnerability to come through where we don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks.
Have you been facing everything as it comes? Or ignoring the increasing levels of tension? Have you been on top of your responsibilities? Or are you struggling to finish everything that needs to get done?
There’s no shame in whichever way you answer these types of questions. But it’s important to answer them in a way that’s true to your experience. Doing so will no doubt help you begin the process of healing.
Journal Prompt #5: Write a letter from your future self to your current self
I’m a big fan of letter-writing. It’s something I explore a lot when I find myself struggling with eating disordered thoughts.
For this exercise to help you heal from these troubling times, you can choose to write words of comfort, with your future self assuring your current one that things will all work out okay. Or you can choose to share the wisdom you think your future self will have, and give advice to yourself that you think you need right now. I like this option quite a lot because I certainly know my problems right now, and it takes creative thinking to come up with solutions I think might work. It’s a lower-stress way to figure things out.
I personally chose to write about how 2020 was a year that made me stronger, and I explained from the standpoint of my older self why all my current problems worked out to build me up or teach me something in the end.
Journal Prompt #6: List all the things that are the same now as they were last year.
Being grounded is typically associated with practicing mindfulness or meditation, but it really just means to be present in reality as opposed to the thoughts in your head. It involves distracting yourself from the negatives and continuously refocusing your attention to what’s actually happening, right here and now, in your life.
One way to do that in a big way in this time of flux, I’m finding, is to think about my life and how it still has so many constants. The sun still rises every morning. I still wake up, take my meds, get dressed, and have coffee. I still kiss my boyfriend goodbye and then pick up his dirty socks from the floor and put them in the hamper.
I still move by putting one foot in front of the other. I’m still breathing.
I find this technique particularly grounding because even though it requires me to think back to the past, it’s in a way I find comforting.
Journal Prompt #7: What lessons can be learned from 2020 so far?
This one seems obvious, and perhaps you’ve heard the question posed before. But have you truly thought about it? Think about how your life has changed. There are sure to be quite a few ways, ranging from your work environment to how you get your groceries to how you feel about free time. What can be learned from the dramatic shifts and the little differences?
Personally, I’ve taken a hard look at daily and weekly routines that I either used to love or hate. I used to despise my retail job for so many reasons. But now, oddly enough, I miss it. I used to love waking up every morning and going out to buy a coffee from a local shop, but now I’m finding it more fulfilling to make my coffees at home, to get creative with how I brew them and fancy them up.
Quarantining has taught me not to take things for granted simply because they aren’t completely enjoyable; there’s good in everything. It’s taught me that I can find happiness in whatever circumstance life throws me into, even if it’s not what I’m used to. Change isn’t always a bad thing.
To cope with something means to deal with it in an effective way. To heal means to resolve the problem and grow from it.
In the case of COVID-19, resolving the problem is out of our hands, but I believe we’re still able to grow from it anyway. Focusing on positives, exploring your feelings, and thinking about what can be learned from the situation will give you the tools you need to continue coping and allow you to begin the slow and steady process of moving on.
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