How Journaling is Setting Me Free

Have you ever had the same message come at you through so many sources, you finally throw your hands up in surrender, and say, “Fine! I’m listening!”?

That is how my goal for this new year came to be.

I read “The Artist’s Way” with a friend last year, and Julia Cameron promises that getting up early and writing three pages first thing every morning will grow your creativity.

I listened to a Typology podcast interview with a spiritual director, who said, “Write three pages every morning to discover your areas of pain and growth.”

I listened to an interview with Rebekah Lyons about her new book “Rhythms of Renewal”, and she said, “Journaling every morning lowers your stress level and grows emotional health.”

I discovered a website called “The Cure For Chronic Pain”, and read, “Journaling for 20 minutes every day will release the deep emotions you hold inside, which are causing your pain, and free you from tension and discomfort.”

After the fourth time of getting the message to start journaling, I finally said, “Alright!! I will set my alarm even earlier in the morning, and I will give this journaling thing a try. It’s free, it can’t hurt, and even if it doesn’t heal me of all stress and pain, it will still be a great thing to do.”

I’ve journaled every single day for a month, and I’m hooked. It has been completely amazing, and so my goal for 2020 is to begin every day with journaling.

I turn on my new twinkle lights in the kitchen window, set my timer for 20 minutes, and just write. Sometimes I don’t have a clue what to write about, but the words start coming. Thoughts and feelings rise to the surface from so far down, I had no idea I’ve kept them stuffed inside. But they pop up and out onto my page, and suddenly I am undone, because I can’t believe I’ve carried that deep, dark truth for so many years. I’m not miraculously healed from my pain (yet?!), but I feel lighter every day. How can that not eventually affect my physical body?

Thoughts and emotions are deeply connected to the physical body, and while I’m holding expectations lightly about how this will affect me, I can’t believe how different I feel about myself after a month. I’ve learned more about myself in the last month than I have in the past few years. It feels like purging pain, bitterness, unforgiveness, and every negative message I’ve taken in or spoken over myself for my whole life. I wake up to do battle with old demons, and it feels hard and painful and beautiful and healing.

Sometimes I write to God, sometimes I write letters which will never be sent, sometimes I just write fragments of thoughts, fast and furious, that don’t need to make sense to anyone but me.

I ignore margins, I don’t correct spelling mistakes (Gasp! How out of character!!), I spill it all out. And when I’m done, I tear up my pages into hundreds of little pieces, and I throw all that garbage into the garbage.

Then I go lie on my living room floor to do my daily stretches, and I pray it all out. I pray for healing and perspective. I pray for new thoughts to replace the old ones I’m shedding. I lie there and try to soak in the feeling of being light and free and forgiven.

Morning by morning, page by page, I am finding my way through. I have always tried very hard to be a Good Girl – to say and do the right thing, and not get mad or be mean. I’ve hidden all the “unacceptable” parts deep down inside, and I’ve labeled my feelings as “Good” or “Bad”. But what I know now is that my feelings are just my feelings.

It’s time to stop labeling them as “Good or Bad”, and I’m changing the labels to “Time and Place”. My time to get it all out with brutal honesty is each morning with my pen in hand. My family sleeps, and I sit there on my dark, quiet house, spilling it all out, because God sees it anyway, so let’s just be honest already.

I never knew journaling could bring freedom. I’ve written for years, but always for my blog, which meant it had to be neat and tidy, and appropriate for public consumption. I didn’t know how much I needed to write just for me.

But I love it, and I highly recommend it. Do you journal? Do you ever feel like you might benefit from journaling? Do you have other ways of working out emotions which feel right and good? I want to hear all about it!!

5 Tips to Stop the Yelling

I don’t even want to have this post on my blog. I never thought I would be a parent who could ever yell at my darling children. But one of the most important things I’ve learned about yelling at your kids is that it really has very little to do with your children, and everything to do with the parent.

Five Ways

When we only had one child, I was a fairly fantastic parent. I never yelled. Ever. There was no need to. Anika was very well behaved and obedient, and there was no other kid in the house for her to fight with, or have to share with. We spent hours reading together, all cozily curled up together, and life was quiet and awesome…but a little lonely! We definitely knew we wanted a sibling for her.

I finally got pregnant, after years of hoping, and suddenly, I wasn’t quite so patient. I was sick, grumpy, and hormonal. It was during that time when I first started to lose control of the volume of my voice. I hated it, because it wasn’t the kind of parent I wanted to be, and I loved Anika so much, but it was a problem that I’ve struggled with ever since.

I didn’t yell a lot, and when I did, it was usually connected to PMS or pregnancy hormones, but whatever the reason, it needed to stop. Things reached at climax when school ended this spring, because the girls were having a hard time adjusting to a summer schedule – or lack of schedule, and seemed to be filling their free time with bickering and fighting. It drove me crazy, which didn’t take much, because once again, those pregnancy hormones were raging.

I had read something in a book that stuck with me – Dr. Caroline Leaf writes in Switch on Your Brain that in order to lose weight, or change any kind of habit, it has to begin in the mind. Your thoughts need to change before your behaviour can change. I started thinking about how I could use her three week Brain Detox program to stop yelling. I had no idea if it would work, but it was worth a shot.

I learned the most interesting things about myself, and my sweet children. I can’t say I’m now perfect, and will never yell again. What I can say is that things are different around here, to the point where one night, Anika turned to me and said, “Mommy, you don’t really yell much anymore.” Bittersweet moment – I was so glad she noticed the difference, but she should never have needed to experience the yelling in the first place.

So for all those parents out there who dearly love their kids, and want to stop the yelling, I’m offering this little list of what I’ve learned as I’ve worked to change my mind, in order to change my mouth:

1) Start a Journal.

Part of the three week Brain Detox is being very intentional with what you think and say, and writing is the best way to keep track of what’s going on, as well as to plan for what you’re going to do differently.

Every night, I would write down everything I had yelled about. I would write down the behaviour that bugged me, how it made me feel, and how I could handle it differently the next time it happened.

I wrote down inspiring quotes on parenting and loving your kids, and verses about parenting and love, and anything else I thought would fill my mind with desirable thoughts.

Journaling was an incredibly helpful exercise in getting me thinking about what the root problems were in the negative situations we were facing.

2) Figure out what behaviour makes you yell, and find a different way to fix it.

Once I started seeing patterns in my journaling, I could come up with a consistent consequence or solution for those specific problems. When the situation would come up, I would be prepared with what to do.

For example, the big things that tick me off and get me raising my voice are:

  • Being spoken to in a disrespectful voice (Obviously, yelling is NOT going to help that situation!)
  • Repeated complaining
  • Repeated disobedience, when I’ve just dealt with that exact problem five minutes ago
  • Misbehaving when we’re late, and I’m trying to get everybody out the door as fast as possible

It was those same things, again and again. So Ben and I discussed it, and we tried to come up with consequences for those problems. And something as simple as getting the girls to wait in the car for me, instead of fighting with each other in the entrance, helped me to feel less frazzled about getting out the door, and I couldn’t yell at anyone because they weren’t there!

3) Recognize what puts you in a yelling mood, and keep it from happening.

My journal helped me to realize that I start yelling every Saturday morning around 10:00am. Up until then, our Saturday mornings are perfect. Ben makes waffles, we have a slow morning in our pajamas, we usually don’t have anywhere to go, and it’s very relaxing. But the fun always stops at 10:00. Why??!

Well, I came across this awesome article which opened my eyes. I may never be the same again. I would never have considered myself a “highly sensitive parent” before, but as I read that list, I could relate to so much of it. She writes about how we can be extremely affected by our physical environment – smells, touch, noise, etc.

You know what bugs me? Sitting around in my pajamas without brushing my teeth, combing my hair, or washing my face, for too long. I’m good till about nine o’clock. After that, I feel disgusting.

Yet every Saturday morning, I was doing this for hours, until I was totally grumpy. I started pulling on a pair of sweats first thing in the morning, and I felt SO MUCH better, just because I was dressed! I stopped waiting so long to get ready in the morning, and it made a huge difference.

A messy house also makes me grumpy. I don’t need the house to be spotless, but I like things picked up and put away. I’m trying to get the girls to do that before it starts aggravating me too much, or else I remind myself that it’s temporary mess, and at the end of the day, they’ll clean up their toys, and my house will be clean. It IS clean, under those toys.

Even what I eat makes a difference in my mood! How much I sleep, or if I’ve exercised that day – all these things affect my mood.

If I pay attention to my environment and things that make me grouchy and uncomfortable, I can take steps to prevent myself from going there, and will be less irritable, and less likely to yell.

4) Recognize what is behind the misbehaviour.

Just as I have reasons for yelling, my children have reasons for acting out.

A friend reminded me of this after we had spent a very hot afternoon at the beach with our kids. Both of my girls were unusually grumpy, and I was tired and impatient with them. I couldn’t understand what in the world was wrong with them. But then my friend said, “All kids get grumpy when they’re hot and tired.”

I suddenly realized I had forgotten to think of them as little people with problems as real as my own. I started to imagine how they must be feeling, instead of just being frustrated with the behaviour it caused.

There are tons of things that make my girls cranky – too much sugar, a bad night’s sleep, not drinking enough water on a hot day…the list could go on and on. Most of the time, they aren’t trying to be naughty or annoying. They don’t recognize what is making them uncomfortable and irritable. I need to recognize their needs, teach them to recognize their needs, and not put so much weight on the crankiness – often, that’s the symptom, but not the problem.

5) Choose what eyes you will use to see your children.

Since the day our girls were born, I would sneak into their rooms each night, just to watch them while they sleep. So innocent and peaceful and adorable. Those soft, warm, relaxed cheeks, and hot little hands poking out from under the blanket. What parent in their right mind could yell at such angels??!!

And then the next morning, they’d start making choices that annoyed me, and there we’d go again. No more soft-cheeked angels!!

Except… they were still the same kids – I was just seeing them differently. I started trying to take a breath, gain a bit of control, and remind myself that these were my sweet girls – my precious children whom I loved so much.

I tried to delight in them more throughout the day.

And they are really quite delightful! The more I delight in them, the less I feel like yelling at them when a problem arises.

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But like I said, as awesome as these tips have been, I am not a perfect parent. I’ve needed to remind myself many times that we get a fresh start tomorrow. I apologize when I mess up, and then we try again.

Do you have any tips to add? How do you keep your cool when your kids are going crazy?!