Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Written Word & Stress

This last month I have been noticing how many teens come into my office who are not proficient at the written language. Many of them are great with typing and texting, but not actually writing. I had one 6th grader who did not have a signature because he didn't write in cursive. Unfortunately, with greater technology we are also losing some fantastic coping skills that help us the rest of our lives with dealing with stress.

I often give an analogy to my clients that I call the Emotional Barrel Analogy. If you can imagine with me a large barrel much like an old time rain barrel. On the inside at the bottom of the barrel you can find all of the logical, healthy choices you must make through life. They're written down there very clearly to see. Imagine on the outside at the bottom of the barrel are lots of various sized spigots, faucets, or valves (whatever you like to call them). Imagine that emotion and stress of ANY type (positive or negative) is all thrown into this Emotional Barrel. Some emotion is rather positive and clear while much of it is dirty and negative. When mixed together it becomes a pool of filthy water. As the barrel begins to fill it becomes increasingly more difficult to see the answers at the bottom of the barrel. Eventually we cannot see through the muck and mire to see these answers. It is at this point that we often begin making decisions based solely out of emotion rather than out of logic and taking into consideration emotion. If the barrel is allowed to fill to the brim and overflow then we experience issues such as panic attacks, anxiety issues, depression, rage, anger, etc.

Many people spin their wheels trying to change emotion. We cannot change an emotion just like we cannot change oil into water. Each emotion is unique and cannot be altered. It CAN be drained and replaced however. We must focus our attention on keeping our barrel drained in order to make healthy decisions for our lives.

So how do we drain emotion? Simple, the phrase is "coping skills". These are methods that we use to drain excess emotion. Some examples include, but are definitely not limited to, exercise, listening to music, talking with friends and family, crying, yelling, hitting, smoking, medication, alcohol, etc. You can see that some coping skills are good (meaning they have positive consequences) while others are bad (meaning they have unhealthy consequences). We need to do our best to learn and utilize good coping skills that have positive consequences. We don't want to drain emotion using a coping skill and then have the barrel fill back up due to the negative consequences of that same coping skill.

One of my all time favorite coping skills is journaling. Journaling has been used for centuries for many reasons. Journaling is simply another form of venting without many negative consequences. You see, venting to friends and family is wonderful, but because they care so much for you they tend to adopt our feelings and although we feel better after venting they often feel worse. This is especially true if the issue is a long term issue. Journaling on paper doesn't have that type of consequence. If you are afraid someone may read your journal then just tear that page away. The writing is the important part, it's not necessary for you to keep it.

The best form of journaling is using pen / pencil and paper. Although there are many electronic journals available which are good, they don't have the same impact as writing things out. Utilizing pen and paper also makes the mind slow down in order to write logical sentences. Our brains can be trained just like the rest of our body and we must learn to control it and make it slow down.

Some schools are now going green. Meaning they are doing away with as much paper usage as possible. Tests are online, homework is online, everything is online. Although this is great for the environment it creates a group of kids that are NOT being taught a VERY important coping skill that can be used their entire life. I do recognize the importance of helping our environment, but I find it to be much more important to help our next generation learn how to handle life.

Since schools are becoming more technologically advanced we must make sure to teach our children how to write. Encourage your kids to practice their handwriting skills by keeping journals. If you are also feeling stressed this is a great time to begin journaling also. If it is a family ordeal you may consider having a time where the entire family sits down together to journal. You don't have to read what others wrote but if they would like to share then be willing to listen. At least you're spending time with your family AND teaching everyone a valuable lesson in how to handle difficult, emotional times.