Sunday, 22 February 2015

Journalling and Mindfulness: cost-benefit?

Back in November when my mental health imploded and took out my physical health in the process, I was assigned to some counselling sessions which concentrated on using mindfulness to help me repair myself and develop resilience to the issues that had caused the burn-out in the first place. I have practised mindfulness in the past, but to be honest, my major way of decompressing was to run. If I needed to chew over things I would run long and steady; if I needed to get stress out of my system I would run short and fast or run intervals; if I was just generally wound up, I would run tempo for as long as I could and meditate while I was doing it. I was actually very good at mindful running.

Running is not possible with an untreated arrhythmia.

Hence, I started practising mindfulness (on a more stationary basis than I had in the past), but I felt as if it was a bit of a waste of time - that my brain was a box of frogs and that the time spent trying to focus on my breathing etc. was just time spent getting more frustrated at the fact that my mind was a box of frogs.

But, I persevered and tried to incorporate small acts of mindfulness into my day. The counsellor had suggested the 8-week course that is outlined in a book by Mark Williams but I still have not got past the first week of that, finding it nigh on impossible to manage to do the 8-minute initial mindful meditation, twice a day, for a week. Instead, I have managed to do some meditation at least once every day. At one point I was managing more (and could probably have re-started with the Mark Williams course) but more usually it is just once a day.

Is it helping?

Well, I'm still not back at work and I sense that the major test of whether it is helping on the resilience side will come when I do return, but I think it is helping me to rebuild my mental health.

I have found that in the morning, my brain is all over the place and meditating/practising mindfulness is largely what my counsellor would have described as 'practising frustration'! But with a small tweak (which is quite possibly just a large cheat) I am making it work better for me.

To try and help clear my head (and reduce the box of frogs feeling), I am combining the mindfulness/meditation with journalling. It can be either 'morning pages' or just a timed brain-dump: 15 minutes of getting things out of my head and onto paper. Sometimes I then convert part of that brain-dump into a to do list. Often I just ignore everything I have written - it was the writing of it that was helpful as it allowed me to process things and move on.

Once I have done that, meditation/mindfulness is a lot easier and has frequently allowed me to feel more productive afterwards - that the clutter in my head has been tidied away and there is now space to allow my thoughts to flow freely. The morning pages help to tame the box of frogs; the meditation then lets my brain rest and be quiet; after that, thoughts can flow well.

Doing the morning pages may well be a big cheat. I do realise that. I do realise that maybe I should be taming the box of frogs with meditation, but at the moment I just can't. I try to meditate and I just get frustrated. At least this way, I get my head clear and then rested.

So, cost-benefit analysis? Are those 30 or so minutes time well spent? I think so. I think that the unscrambling then meditating is helping me get through the burn-out and back to 'me'. I hope that I am also building resilience ready for when I return to work and that any return will not be curtailed by another implosion.

And of course, I'm getting to use some lovely notebooks and delightful pens in the process...

How do others decompress??


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I've had a similar experience in the past year, and have found that writing serves as a form of meditation for me. The act of writing seems soothing and slows my mind, and has even provided some insight from time to time. Bonus: my stash of notebooks and ink get used!

  2. For what it's worth, I found this extremely helpful. I also experienced a mental health implosion last year and, after a period of significant improvement, have lately been struggling to not lose ground. I think this may help me hold on and move forward. The brain dump doesn't sound like a cheat, to me, it just seems like a smart lifehack.

  3. Thank you both of you! Although I am sad to hear that both of you have suffered similar experiences, I'm glad that the journalling is working for you too.