Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Wise-Self/Worried-Self Journal

For any of us dealing with an overload of anxiety or depression, I suggest using a journal as a daily “Worry Book”  in which we do what I call “double-entry journaling.”

Here’s how it works:

On one side of an open journal page we write down our worst fears, worries, angers, griefs or negative beliefs. We record these in raw, unedited form, just as they are repeating themselves endlessly in our mind. This step can help us identify, externalize and vent the negative messages that are coming from our fear-based “worried self.” Putting these distressing, repetitive thoughts and beliefs on paper helps us examine them more objectively to see if they pass the truth, faith and reasonableness test.

Examples of negative, "worried self" statements:

“I’m always messing up. Nothing I do or say ever comes out right.”

“My boss has it in for me. Everybody else at work gets treated better than I do.”

“Everything is just so hopeless. Life is totally unfair, and there’s not any use even trying to make things better.”

When we’re finished getting these off our chest we turn to the opposite page and write responses to each of our expressions of distress or fear, this time speaking from our “wise self.” This doesn’t mean writing down a lot of Pollyannish platitudes simply to make us feel better. Rather, we respond in the same way we would if this worried or depressed person were some other valued friend or family member we really cared about.

Here are some examples of “wise self” responses to the above:

“I’m human, so I do mess up sometimes. But of course I say and do some things right, too, and when I goof up, I can always learn from my mistakes.”

“My boss is unreasonable sometimes, for sure, but that’s his/her problem. My problem is knowing how to either ignore her/him when s/he’s having a bad day, confront him/her about it, or find myself another job.”

“I guess not everything is hopeless, even though some things do seem unfair. With God’s help and with the support of other good people, I can at least do my best to make my life worthwhile.”

When we’re finished reflecting on all that is unreasonably negative (on the left page), and finished affirming alternatives that are reasonably positive (on the right page), we close our “Worry Book” and set it aside, having done as much as we feel we can for the time being. Then whenever we need to, if not on a daily basis, we return to the book, review what we’ve written on both sides of the ledger, add to each column whatever is current, and again close it and set it aside. And then go about living under the guidance of our wise, faith-based and fear-free self to the best of our ability.

Living from our more reasonable, faith- and truth-based side won’t rid us of all our problems, but it  can go a long way to reduce, if not always eliminate, the anxiety or distress we feel about them.

Bottom line: The truth is our friend, and will set us free. If it isn’t freeing us, it probably isn’t the truth.
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