Journaling: Relief for Anxiety and Depression, with Maud Purcell

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When it comes to journaling, the research is conclusive and inspiring; expressive writing is a practical tool that improves emotional well-being. It was a pleasure to sit down with psychotherapist Maud Purcell to discuss the ways she uses journaling techniques to help clients navigate depression and anxiety.

Maud Purcell is a Founder and Executive Director of The Life Solution Center of Darien.  She has been quoted in the NY Times and The Wall Street Journal and interviewed nationally and internationally on television and radio.

To listen to our conversation, visit our podcast, The Power of Journaling, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Identify Root Causes of Strong Emotions

Journaling, Maud explains, is a powerful lens that helps us to see the root cause of strong emotions. This fresh clarity helps us to address old problems in new ways.

Journaling is a Multi-Purpose Tool

Maud is a long-time proponent of journaling, and her enthusiasm is contagious. In her work with clients, she recommends they journal about a range of issues that include:

  • healing from traumatic events
  • problem solving
  • increasing gratitude
  • engendering hope and optimism for the present and future
  • triggering  creativity
  • finding meaning in life when circumstances make it difficult to do so

Journaling, brings issues hovering below the surface of consciousness into our range of vision. From there we better understand the exact emotions that need to be disentangled.

Before I ask someone to start writing, I’ll ask them to observe how they feel based on a scale between one and ten. Then they journal. Afterwards, I’ll ask them to rate their mood again. Almost every time, their mood is improved.

Maud Purcell

Achieve Left-Brain Right-Brain Assimilation

The act of writing accesses the left brain, which is analytical and rational. While our left brain is occupied with writing, our right brain is free to create and intuit. In this way, Maud explains, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use both parts of our brain for deeper self-exploration.

Tapping into lesser used parts of our brain helps us to discover creative ways to:

  • prepare for challenging conversations
  • determine a new life path or direction
  • come to terms with mistakes we’ve made and foster self-forgiveness
  • cultivate a spiritual practice

Journaling Facilitates Physical Healing

Citing the seminal work of Dr. James Pennebaker, a recent podcast guest on The Power of Journaling, Maud spoke to journaling’s impact on physical health. Dr. Pennebaker and other researchers have observed that journaling benefits our health by:

  • decreasing blood pressure and heart rate
  • improving immune system function
  • relieving pain
  • aiding digestion
  • improving sleep
  • decreasing asthma and rheumatoid arthritis

Bring Unconscious Feelings to the Surface

Maud explained that if we are out of touch with our own thoughts and feelings, there is an increased risk of experiencing anxiety and depression. When we write, unconscious feelings rise to the surface. Once we get these feelings onto paper, we can achieve a level of distance and objectivity which in turn gives us space to problem solve creatively.

Journaling Addresses a Variety of Issues

Our talk with Maud highlighted the ways journaling can address a wide range of issues.

  • In situational anxiety and depression, journaling helps us connect the dots so we better understand what triggers and maintains negative emotional patterns.
  • With the help of a regular journaling routine, significant milestones like accepting a new job or purchasing a home can be navigated with greater ease.
  • Journaling helps us to spot negative thinking and to focus instead on feelings of optimism, gratitude, and contentment.

Your Action Plan

Learn more about Maud’s work. Visit her at The Life Solution Center of Darien.

  • For more ideas and information, listen to my interview with Maud.
  • Invest in your journaling practice and gift yourself gorgeous pens, paper, candles, and teas to affirm your writing journey.

There’s No Wrong Way to Do This

When asked to share her best journaling tips, Maud responded, “There are no rules. Just put the pen to paper and write.”  We think these are some wise words to live by!

Three Ways Journal Planners Cultivate Happiness, with Mo Seetubtim

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Mo Seetubtim, founder & CEO of The Happiness Planner, conceived a novel idea. What if planners and journals were blended into one fabulous tool? Today, Mo designs beautiful products that can help you explore your inner world, master your mind, and find happiness from within. At Journaling.com, we were so impressed by Mo’s creations that we selected her Happiness Planner as one of the top 10 planners in 2019. It’s an enormous pleasure to introduce you to Mo and to the inspiring resources she’s created.  

To learn more, listen to our interview or read below to see highlights from my conversation with Mo.

A global nomad who’s called numerous places home, Mo resides in Europe for now. In her travels, Mo has observed the ways journaling practices go hand in hand with a society’s reading culture. She speaks of how the French’s love of the written word correlates with their affection for journaling. The Japanese, who have a rich history of paper making and design, seek out aesthetically pleasing journaling products that reflect this cultural element.  

The seeds for Mo’s own journaling practice were sown by her father, a marathon runner, entrepreneur, and avid journal writer who recognized the ways writing helped expand his self-awareness. Today journaling is a regular and important part of Mo’s own self-care routine.

As Mo worked on her design for a product that combined the traditional daily planner with the act of journaling, she observed two key things. A planner requires one to look to the future. A journal inspires observation and reflection on thoughts and behaviors in order to develop deeper self-awareness.

Realizing that these tools were perfect complements and could be integrated into one straightforward resource, the Happiness Planner was born. Mo explains that a journaling planner inspires users to make time to prioritize the contemplation and evaluation of specific thoughts and behavioral patterns.

Three Ways Journal Planners Guide you Toward  Happiness

Mo discussed three ways journal planners help us to find more happiness in life.

  1. Journal planners help us to explore our inner world and observe thoughts and behaviors that might be otherwise overlooked.

    It’s hard to see negative patterns unless we learn to observe them. Journaling, Mo explains, lets us identify helpful and unhelpful patterns of behaviors so that we can cultivate ways of being that enrich our lives and eliminate all the rest. 

  2. Journal planners help rewire the brain.

    Mo reminds us that we can rewire our brain to change thoughts and behaviors and establish positive new habits. Journal Planners help us commit time to activities we aren’t used to doing. Whether this is exercise, cooking healthy meals, or making time for a hobby, once these activities are prioritized in your journal planner and are repeated over and over, you’ve rewired your brain and integrated these activities into your life.

  3. A journal planner helps cultivate a relationship with one’s self.

    Mo describes herself as someone who finds deep joy in solitude, and she notes that true happiness comes from within. A journal planner can deepen the relationship we have  with ourselves which in turn provides the clarity we need to navigate challenging moments in life.

Journal planners help us to explore our inner world and observe thoughts and behaviors that might be otherwise overlooked.

Mo Seetubtim

Writing Prompts to Identify What Brings You Happiness

Light a candle, pour some tea, and gift yourself with a moment to explore the journaling prompts Mo shares below.

  • Write about activities that bring you joy.
  • Identify your values and the actions that will help you live in a manner that promotes your system of beliefs.
  • Reflect on a moment in your life that brought deep joy. Consider ways to ensure these moments are repeated.

These questions require us to dig deeply. A journal planner facilitates this process so that it becomes an ongoing practice in our lives.  

Ideas on the Horizon

Mo looks forward to creating new tools to further support the journaling community. Her mention of theme journals especially stood out to us. She describes these as guided journals containing prompts and worksheets loaded with questions designed to address issues such as self-love, consciousness, attachment, and fear.

In the year ahead, Mo also looks forward to hosting engaging, fun-filled events focused on self-awareness raising and confidence building.  

Your Action Plan

  • The Happiness Planner isn’t the only tool in Mo’s journaling toolbox. Visit her website  to see all of the resources she offers, and choose the one that’s right for you.
  •  Listen to our interview with Mo on The Power of Journaling.
  • Spend time with your journal exploring Mo’s writing prompts up above.

Mo’s work is a joy-filled reminder that journaling helps construct a strong foundation made of self-awareness and understanding that can help us to weather life’s ups and downs.

If You Enjoyed This Interview…

If you found my conversation with Mo helpful, you may also enjoy my interview with positive psychology coach, Nancy Scherlong, in which we discuss the ways journaling cultivates a sense of well-being. Visit The Power of Journaling podcast to hear our discussion or read the highlights of our chat here on Journaling.com.

Six Ways to Keep Journal Writing Fresh, with Lynda Monk

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Whether you are new to journal writing or it’s been a part of your life forever, keeping the process fresh is important. Journaling expert Lynda Monk, MSW, RSW, CPCC, is full of ideas to help you engage with your journaling practice in colorful ways. It’s a joy to welcome her to Journaling.com.

Lynda is the Director of the International Association for Journal Writing.  A registered social worker and Certified Professional Life Coach, Lynda specializes in therapeutic journaling for self-care, burnout prevention, wellness, and creative self-expression, and she regularly speaks on the healing and transformational power of life writing. She is the co-author of Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection,  as well as co-author of the international bestseller Inspiration for a Woman’s SoulChoosing Happiness.  She is also the author of Life Source Writing: A Reflective Journaling Practice for Self-Discovery, Self-Care, Wellness and Creativity and producer of the Creative Wellness Guided Meditations CD. 

To listen to our podcast interview with Lynda, click on the play button below. Or keep reading to see the written highlights from our talk.

Flexibility is Fundamental

When Lynda talks about her own journaling practice, a spirit of flexibility infuses her approach. As a mother to young teens, her free time is limited, but she says that journaling remains a priority in her life, and she always keeps her journal with her. A commute by ferry gives Lynda a stretch of time to freewrite. Waiting in parking lots for her children to finish afterschool activities, gifts Lynda more opportunities to jot down her thoughts onto paper.

Since time is limited, Lynda’s come to recognize the value in maximizing opportunities to write. This realization led her to a series of techniques to keep her writing practice fresh and inviting. These techniques/tips are gleaned from years of study. Lynda attended a memoir writing residency at Banff School of the Arts, and trained with many of the top leaders in expressive writing and therapeutic writing. These tips are light and easy-to-do, but they are grounded in evidence-based practice and years of education and experience. It’s this experience and knowledge that makes Lynda one of the top experts in the journaling field.

An ongoing journaling practice is like any long term relationship. When you show up to it again and again with enthusiasm and positivity, great things happen.

Lynda Monk

Lynda’s Six Tips to Keep Journaling Fresh

In addition to being trained and educated in this field, Lynda is also a life-long journaler herself.

  1. Clarify your intentions. Lynda recommends regularly checking in with yourself to identify what motivates you to journal. Gaining this insight keeps journaling fresh because it helps you constantly rediscover the “whys” you want answers to.
  2. Cultivate curiosity. Arrive at each writing session with wonder and an eagerness to make new discoveries. Approach your journal with wide-open eyes and engage with questions that have risen to the surface. New questions foster new awareness that we can follow up on with a plan for action.
  3. Honor the questions in your heart.  In life, the big question marks we encounter point us in the directions we most need to contemplate. When we honor this need, we tap into fresh material to help us cultivate inner wisdom.
  4. Affirm the contributions journaling makes to your life. Just like brushing your teeth or taking a shower, journaling may be an essential component of your self-care routine. When we acknowledge the ways journaling makes us a better parent, partner, son or daughter, we don’t have to struggle to justify fitting this mindfulness act into our schedules.
  5. Journal with other people. Writing Alone Together, a book Lynda co-authored with  friends Wendy Cutler and Ahava Shira, was born from their shared experiences in a journaling club. For three years, the trio met monthly to share space and writing. Through that experience, Lynda’s appreciation for the power of storytelling and community was reinforced. Together the friends cultivated a space for active quiet listening.
  6. Journal in a variety of settings. New surroundings provide a fresh outlook and shift in our perspective. There’s no right or wrong location. Visit a park or forest. Sit on the earth or a comfy couch. Write down your thoughts in a coffee shop or from your deck. The ways that we connect with our environment will be reflected in how we engage with our journals.

Other Tips and Techniques

Lynda recommends that we adapt techniques used in other forms of writing.

  • Journal with dialogue. If faced with a difficult choice between two possibilities, give each option a voice. Engage both sides in dialogue on the pages of your journal.
  • Develop characters. If you were to put a face and personality on your anxiety, joy, or grief, what would that look like? Who would that person be?

Lynda notes, “Journaling is an act of storytelling.  Journalers are storytellers who capture moments, insights, and inner workings as each merges onto the pages of their journal.”

Your Action Plan

  • Discover more about Lynda’s work. Visit her online at Creative Wellness –  and learn about the work she does supporting healthcare professionals with Thrive Training and Coaching 
  • Explore IAJW’s website and consider becoming a member of this vibrant community.

Read Lynda’s book Writing Alone Together

  • Listen to our podcast interview with Lynda.
  • Invigorate your writing life. Give Lynda’s six suggestions a try this week.

Lynda wisely equates an ongoing journaling practice with any long term relationship. She reminds us that when we show up to journal again and again with enthusiasm, great things happen. Greeting each writing session with an attitude of positivity keeps our writing fresh and meaningful.

Expressive Writing: A Tool for Transformation, with Dr. James Pennebaker, Ph.D.

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We recently sat down to interview Dr. James Pennebaker, a leading thinker on the impact expressive writing has on our physical and emotional well-being. His message is inspiring, and we are pleased to share it with you.

Dr. Pennbaker is a Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a social psychologist and the author of hundreds of articles and many books includingThe Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us and Opening Up by Writing It Down.

Listen to our interview on Journaling.com’s podcast, The Power of Journaling or read highlights of the interview (below).

Engage with Trauma and Grief in a Bold New Way

Expressive writing is a revolutionary act. It can be done anywhere, takes less time than a cup of coffee, it’s free, and, best of all, scientifically proven to improve how we process issues that compromise one’s quality of life.  

Dr. Pennebaker explains that expressive writing helps us reevaluate sources of grief or trauma. He refers to this process as “life course correction.” 

His suggestions are simple:

  • Set aside fifteen minutes for three or four consecutive days.
  • Use this time to write freely about a single issue that’s causing anxiety or pain.

Can Expressive Writing Help You?

Research shows that people who think, dream, or worry about a specific concern with intense regularity can benefit from expressive writing.

Expressive Writing Improves Health and Ensures a Better Night’s Rest

Since the 1980s, Dr. Pennebaker has measured the outcomes of expressive writing and discovered those who practice this technique may experience:

  • Stronger immune health
  • Better sleep habits
  • Improved mental health
  • Regulated blood pressure
  • Reduction in pain caused by chronic diseases

Expressive Writing Helps Us Make Sense of Unexpected and Unimaginable Events

Why does expressive writing impact us in such meaningful ways? Dr. Pennebaker’s explanation makes perfect sense.

One of the brain’s functions is to help us understand events in our lives. Writing helps construct a narrative to contextualize trauma and organize ideas. Until we do this, the brain replays the same non-constructive thought patterns over and over and we become stuck.

Writing about grief and trauma helps achieve closure which tells the brain its work is done. This closure frees us to move forward.

Expressive writing gives us the opportunity to stand back and reevaluate issues in our lives.

Dr. James Pennebaker

You Can Start Expressive Writing Today

If you would like to incorporate expressive writing into your own journaling practice, Dr. Pennebaker offers the following ideas:

  • Write for fifteen minutes a day for three consecutive days. Give yourself enough time to write uninterrupted.
  • Identify a single issue you wish to address. Thoroughly explore the emotions and thoughts attached to this issue.
  •  Ask yourself why you are experiencing particular emotions. Connect the dots. How does this event relate to relationships or events in your past?

It’s Okay to Experiment and Play

Dr. Pennebaker explains there are different ways to maximize the benefits of expressive writing. Everyone is different. Play with methods and see what works best for you. Here are a few ideas to start with:

  • Write with your non-dominant hand.
  • Finger write (mimic the act of writing without actually putting pen to paper).
  • Alternate between typing on a keyboard and pen and paper. Which do you prefer?

The key, Dr. Pennebaker explains, is to slow down our thinking. This shift in gears helps us to understand feelings in new and productive ways.  

Your Action Plan

For more ideas and information, listen to our interview.

If Dr. Pennebaker’s research has sparked your curiosity, I hope you’ll give expressive writing a try. And please do let us know how it goes. Share your experience with me at rebecca@journaling.com or on our Facebook page.