Paper Thoughts

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A few months ago, right when Paper Thoughts was still more of an idea than anything else (we didn’t even have a facebook page yet…), I got an email about TedxNewburgh.
For those of you who don’t know what a Ted Talk is, its a small non-profit that spreads ideas in the form of short, powerful talks. Their catch phrase is “Ideas worth spreading.” I love Ted Talks. I’ve watched hundreds of them. And now there was going to be a Tedx event close enough for me to attend in person?! I was excited!
Then a tiny idea popped in my head…what if *I* did a Ted Talk…what if I did a Ted Talk on Paper Thoughts and journaling?
I imagined myself up on stage, with the TedXNewburgh sign behind me. Microphone on, talking, spreading information. Anyone who knows me well can tell you I love to learn and I love to help others. TedX was the perfect space to get to do both. Also, it would be a great chance to help Paper Thoughts grow.
But anyone who knows me well can also tell you I tend to be an anxious person. The thought of standing up in front of all those people was terrifying.
I told myself, what’s the harm in trying to apply, at least I could say that I tried. So I submitted my application. I assumed that there would be hundreds of applicants and in a few day I’d get an email saying “thanks for your submission, but we regret to inform you you have not been chosen as a speaker.” I could pretend I had been brave and move on with my life.
That wasn’t what happened.
Instead I got an email saying I’d made it through the first round of selections and asking for a 4 minute video explaining who I was and what I wanted to talk about. I begrudgingly made my video and made it through to the final round.
Dammit.
Time to write a speech. And practice. And practice and practice and practice.
This was really happening. I was really going to do a TedxTalk. I was terrified. Can you guess what I did? I journaled. I journaled…a lot. In fact, I’ve almost filled up my journal pouring out all my anxiety onto the paper. Countering all my negative thoughts on the terrible things that “could happen.”
What if I fell getting on stage? What if I threw up on stage? What if I had a migraine that day? What if i froze? What if…what if…what if…
What if I forgot what to say?
WHAT IF I FORGOT WHAT TO SAY?!
Well guess what. I did forget what to say. The night of the Ted Talk I got all dressed up. I got up on stage, went out there in front of all those people, said the first few lines of my speech…
and then nothing.
My problem was, I looked down…I saw everyone looking at me.
And then I had what we call in therapy, an “intrusive thought.” An intrusive thought is an unwelcome and involuntary thought or idea that pops into your head. We teach clients to counter involuntary thoughts by thinking the opposite thought or by rationalizing them away.
“Look at all those people down there that came here to learn, you’re going to let them ALL down when you mess up.”
I stood there like a deer in the headlights for what seemed like an eternity.
I couldn’t remember the next line. I don’t know how long it was I stood there (I guess we’ll see in the video!), but it was long enough for me to imagine myself calmly turning around, walking backstage, handing the microphone back to the Tedx team and going back to my seat in the audience. Back to safety. Away from the eyes of the crowd and their looks of disappointment. Then it would be over. I inhaled deeply.
NO.
I worked REALLY hard on this speech, and there are other people that worked really hard to help me with it. And it is a good speech, and an important message. All these people are here to learn and I DO have something to teach them. I can’t take the easy way out because it feels more comfortable for me. I’ve already messed up and that’s okay, I need to keep going.
I took a deep breath, centered myself. And then I continued. And then I finished. Everyone clapped and several people approached me after to ask about Paper Thoughts and how they could get involved.
It was worth it.
I’d like to say that my ability to overcome that anxiety in the moment and persist was because of journaling. It would be really a good story for Paper Thoughts, but it would also be a lie.
Because a similar thing happened when I was 4…and I couldn’t write yet, so I obviously wasn’t journaling back then.
I was in ballet and it was my very first dance recital. I was all decked out in my fancy blue tutu and way more makeup than any 4 year old should have been wearing. I was scared. My family told me they’d be in the audience watching while I was on stage.
But then I got out on stage. I could only see the first few rows because of the lights…and none of my family was there.
They’re gone. Now you’re alone forever.
I started sobbing. I really believed that was true.
But I danced anyway.
I stood in line with all my friends and my teachers and I did ballet. Tears and makeup running down my face.
I danced.
At 4 I didn’t have the tools yet to manage my anxiety so it overwhelmed me. I didn’t know how to counter those thoughts and to get through it. I didn’t know that I could think “your parents love you and are just a few rows back, you just can’t see them because of the lights.” I didn’t have the skills.
Working as a therapist I’ve seen lots of kids without the skills to deal with negative intrusive thoughts. Lots of kids believing, panicking and sobbing instead of breathing, countering and overcoming.
Obviously, journaling is helpful for doing this. If you write down your intrusive thought, you can take a step back and remove yourself from the emotions that are attached to it. By doing that you can think more clearly. You can then write down a reframed thought; something more logical, or kinder, or more realistic. Sometimes I make a chart like this

Intrusive Thought Rational Thought
Look at all those people down there that came here to learn, you’re going to let them ALL down when you mess up. I worked REALLY hard on this speech, and there are other people that worked really hard to help me with it. And it was a good speech, and an important message. All these people are here to learn and I DO have something to teach them. I can’t take the easy way out because it feels more comfortable.
Your family is gone. Now you’re alone forever. Your family loves you and are just a few rows back, you just can’t see them because of the lights. You’ll see them when you finish dancing

You can go back and look at your reframed thoughts whenever you have the same intrusive thought and remind yourself of what is true and real. You can also track your intrusive thoughts and see how often they happen. The more practice you get countering, the less likely they are to happen.
This is such an important skill to have. And it’s something so many kids lack. If anything, this TedxTalk and my experience with it has illustrated how important getting journals into the hands of kids and teaching them how to use them is. They NEED to learn these skills, just like I did.
They need to know they can keep dancing.
They need to know they can keep talking.
They need to know they can keep learning.
They need to know they can keep growing.
And most importantly….
They need to know that we care enough to help them do it.

If you want to help Paper Thoughts show kids we care, please donate to our gofundme page or visit our get involved page to learn how you can do more to support kids in finding their voice. page to learn how you can do more to support kids in finding their voice.

Do you remember how it felt to be in middle school? Oh, yes, we’re going there. Everything is changing, your body is changing, relationships are changing, roles in your family, how you’re educated: it’s all changing. During all of that, you’re somehow expected to naturally know how to cope with all of it, right?

Where does all of this go, before it all boils over?

A few months ago I was working with a student who was really struggling. We tried lots of different things, different skills to help her feel better, but none of them really “stuck.” We had stopped making progress.

Then we started writing together. Writing became a wonderful tool for her to express herself and release her pain. Things improved immensely, she was able to communicate with others better, focus in school, and just looked happier.

I was so proud of her, but my heart sank, She told me she tried not to write everyday Because she was afraid of filling up her nice journal too quickly. Writing in a notebook from the dollar store, or on scraps of paper may technically work, but the cheap paper, the scattered nature all served as a reminder of her current situation, while the nice journal helped her travel into the future and ponder what she truly wanted for herself. It allowed her to let go and dream.

So I bought some journals, nice ones, the kind a person could dream in. She was so ecstatic, I couldn’t help myself…I bought more journals… I bought… SOOO many journals and offered them to more kids, and the same thing happened.

Then the magic really hit, I started talking about it and grownups really loved the idea of helping kids journal. It was as if they could remember what it was it was like in middle school, and while no one ever handed them a journal, they had the chance to do that now for someone.

Not only did friends and coworkers bring me journals, but others were donating through facebook, and even volunteering as local collection points in their home towns, sending me cases of journals. I was able to offer these special things to more kids, and not only were more kids journaling, but more kids were reaching out for help.

So I started the Paper Thoughts Program.

The Paper Thoughts Program allows me to provide journals and sketchbooks to schools and other youth serving organizations, giving children the tools to find their voice, and manage emotions that might otherwise boil over. While I’m not psychic I do believe that such a thing ensures a brighter future for all.

Our goal started out small, hoping to collect enough journals to provide any student at South Middle School that needs an outlet for their emotions. Now, we hope to branch out to other schools, mental health providers, and youth serving organizations. With your help we can do that! Check out our Get Involved page for more info! 

Alright grown ups, here’s all you need to know about getting your kid to journal!

 

Parents often want kids to be able to speak with them about how they are feeling, sometimes kids, especially teenagers can be pretty…resistant…to talking with their parents about important stuff. Journaling can be a great first step in fostering healthy communication about emotions between you and your child.

Most parents can agree that they want their kids to be able to express their emotions in a healthy way. Most parents can also agree that they often struggle to get their kids to do things that they suggest.

Here are some helpful tips on getting your kids to journal and minimizing their eye rolling and resistance:

 

  • Pitch the idea to them in the right way: If you think your kid might benefit from journaling explain to them how can be helpful; that it can help them learn about themselves, grow, express themselves, find their voice, and track their progress. Give your kid as much choice as possible. If you force them it becomes like homework…and no one likes homework.

 

  • Gather materials: We all like nice things. A kid is much more likely to write in a journal if they are able to pick out a cool one that they like (that’s why Paper Thoughts works to give kids in need journals!) Make it a special event to pick out a nice journal and a nice pen/pencil for your child to use when journaling. Encourage your kid to choose something that speaks to them. The more exciting and special it is the more likely your kid is to try it.

 

  • Set the stage: Encourage your child to find a good space to journal. Encourage them to limit distractions like cell phones and television. Calming music or quiet work best. They may want to journal outside or they may want to journal in their room. Let your child know they can journal for as long or as short as they’d like. Encourage them to do what feels most comfortable for them.

 

  • Make it as easy as possible: Check out our resources page to find a printable PDF of different methods of journaling. If your child is having a hard time knowing where to start, give them some direction. There are lots of free journal prompts in our resources section that you can use to help your child get started. They’re divided by topic and are available for PDF download. 

 

  • Respect Privacy: while it might be really tempting to peek in your kid’s journal to see what they’re writing about, try to avoid it. Journaling will be more effective and helpful for your child if they feel like it’s a safe place to let their feelings out. If you feel like you must check what they are writing to make sure they are safe, let them know about it. Be honest and up front; avoid sneaking and snooping. If you want your child to be able to communicate their feelings with you, it’s important that they trust you. Take the first step in building that trust by making sure you’re honest and open with them.

 

  • Set a good example: If you want your kid to journal and express their emotions in a healthy way, it’s important for you to set a good example by doing the same. You can set aside time where you both journal at the same time next to one another. You can encourage them to share what they wrote. If your child doesn’t want to talk about what they wrote, that’s okay, try to avoid pressuring them, instead ask what you can do to make it easier for them to talk to you, or ask them what the experience of journaling was like for them. This can be a cool way to bond with your kid and both learn about yourselves and grow!

 

Journaling offers a place for kids to learn to express themselves with words, but also maintain privacy and not have to worry about the reactions from others. It gives kids the opportunity to think about their feelings and express them in a safe and healthy way. It can also be a great coping skill when your child is upset or frustrated and it can facilitate healing and growth. It’s also a great way to jumpstart communication between you and your child!

 

 

 

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“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”

–Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic

At some point, all of us will experience the death of someone we know and love. It can be hard to talk about what we are feeling so journaling can be a great way to release emotions when we can’t find the words to speak.

There are 2 strategies you can use to journal about grief. You can use your journal as a record for memories or you can use your journal as a way to work through your feelings. You can do either or both, whichever is the most helpful for you. There’s no wrong answer.

 

If you want to use your journal to record memories, here’s some ideas:

  1. Write about your favorite memory of your loved one. What made that memory so special? Try to include as many details as possible. Put yourself back in that moment with them, what did it feel like?
  2. Write about the greatest lesson you learned from your loved one. How did they teach it to you?
  3. What do you miss the most about your loved one?
  4. Keep a log of “captured moments.” When you’re really missing your loved one, write about a memory you have of them, keep it brief, but as detailed as possible. Try to include descriptions of what you were thinking and feeling at the time as well as descriptions from your 5 senses.

 

If you want to use your journal to work through your feelings, here are some ideas:

  1. Write a letter to your loved one. All the things you would like to say to them, all the things you’d like them to know. One of the hardest parts of grieving is coming to terms with all the things we didn’t get to say to the person we love. Here’s your chance to get them out on paper.
  2. Think about and write down the things that your loved one liked about you. This can be a good exercise when we are feeling guilty. It’s just as important to remember what the person liked about you as it is to remember what you liked about the person.
  3. Write about how you can honor your loved one’s memory in your life going forward. To honor someone’s memory means that you remember and respect them and the life that they lived. Think about what they would have wanted for you and your life. How can you make those things more likely to happen?
  4. Sometimes we can feel “stuck” in our grief. Put yourself into your own shoes one year from now. Write about what you will be thinking and feeling at that time.
  5. Sometimes we feel guilty or bad about a situation that occurred with our loved one. If you feel like that, write about it. What sorts of things do you feel guilty or bad about? Write what advice you’d give to someone who was feeling the way you are.
  6. Write the story of your loss. Talk about all the things that happened, all the things that you wish happened. From beginning to end. Include your thoughts and feelings.
  7. Write about the story of your loss from the 3rd person. Tell it like it was a story and you are narrating it as an outside person looking in. What do you observe happening? This can help you gain perspective on your loss and help you work through some of your feelings.
  8. Write about the “meaning” of loss. All of us go through loss at some point in our lives, what does it mean to you? What advice would you give to someone who is experiencing grief?

 

Remember, these are just suggestions, do what feels right for you. It’s okay to cry when journaling, in fact, it’s really healthy to. Don’t worry about getting your page messy with tears, or writing/drawing sloppy because you can’t see well, don’t worry about spelling or grammar or anything like that. It’s about the “process” of journaling, not the “product” of it looking nice at the end. Just express yourself, whether it be through writing or drawing or anything else that works for you. It might feel too painful to start journaling right now, it’s okay to take your time, but try to challenge yourself, you will likely feel better after journaling. As always, if you’re having a hard time dealing with your emotions by yourself, speak with an adult and ask for help.

 

Using Journaling after a Natural Disaster

This week our community suffered a pretty bad storm. Heavy rains, strong winds, and a tornado touched down.  Thousands were left without power, schools were canceled, and travel was impossible because of fallen trees. At least 2 people lost their lives, one of them a young girl.

Events like these can make us feel out of control, scared, and helpless. These are all totally normal reactions. But just because reactions are “normal,” doesn’t mean we have to be slaves to them. There are steps we can take to help us feel better. If you are having a hard time as a result of the storm or any other natural disaster, here are some ways that journaling might be able to help you. Remember, you can do as many or as few as you’d like of these, do whatever feels right for you.

  1. Make a list of the things you are feeling. You can’t address your feelings and start to feel better if you don’t know what they are. Write down all of the things you are thinking and feeling.
  2. Do a re-cap. Sometimes after a big scary event we might feel out of sorts. We might feel overwhelmed and have a hard time getting our thoughts in order. That’s okay. Doing a recap of the events might help. You can either write a timeline with bullet points of the events that took place, or write it out in sentences like a story. It can be helpful to include how you were feeling during each stage of the event. If you feel comfortable, you can go back and re-read what you wrote to try to make sense of it.
  3. Think about what you have control over. One of the hardest parts of dealing with a natural disaster is feeling like we have no control. Try to think about what you DO have control over. Even the little things that you control like what you eat for lunch and what clothes you wear are important to remember when we are feeling stressed and out of control. Obviously, you can’t control the weather, but think about all the things you CAN control and write them down. We usually control a lot more than we realize.
  4. What has helped in the past? Think about what has helped you get through it when you were having a hard time in the past? What coping skills did you use? A coping skill is something that you use to help you feel better. Some examples of common coping skills are; listening to music, taking a walk, deep breathing, playing video games, and…journaling! Write down some of your coping skills that have worked in the past. It’s a good idea to have a list of coping skills in your journal that you can look at when you’re having a hard time. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what helps us feel better when we are feeling bad in the moment. After you make your list of coping skills, try some out!
  5. Who can you talk to? It’s important to connect with others after something scary like a natural disaster happens. Make a list of people who you can talk to about how you are feeling. You can also brainstorm what you’d like to say to them and questions you’d like to ask. After you finish journaling, try talking to someone from your list in real life about how you are feeling.
  6. What can you do to help? Sometimes after a natural disaster helping others can help us feel better. Chances are, your community is doing a lot to rebuild and get things back to normal. Can you brainstorm ways you can get involved? Can you think of other things your community might need to get through this? What can you do to help?

Whether you choose to journal through art or writing or another medium, these ideas could help you feel a little bit better after a natural disaster. And, as always, if you find yourself still struggling, it’s important to talk to an adult about how you are feeling and ask for help.

 

 

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Journaling for Mental Health

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Today is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day! And although I think EVERY day should be children’s mental health awareness day, its a good day to celebrate and have a conversation about mental health and how it all relates to…you guessed it…journaling. 

1 in 5 children  suffer from a mental health or learning disorder and 80% of chronic mental illnesses begin in childhood. That’s why it is SO important to talk about mental health.

Lots of kids (and even adults) feel like they have to hold all of their feelings inside, that they are weak if they express them. Bottling up of emotions can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, problems managing anger, making good choices and a bunch of other issues. 

Journaling can help manage mental health symptoms because its a great way to express your emotions and get your thoughts and feelings out. 

Many times, those struggling with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety have thoughts that bother them a lot. Someone with depression might think a lot about how bad things are always going to happen to them, or how they aren’t good at anything. Someone with anxiety might think about how if they make a mistake it could ruin their lives. Journaling is an awesome way to work through that. Here’s a good way to structure it: 

  1. Write down the thought that’s bothering you. 
  2. Take a few deep breaths and try to “center” yourself. 
  3. Take a step back and re-read what you wrote. 
  4. Think about it: Does this thought make sense? Is it based in fact or opinion? How would you react if someone you cared about said this thought out loud to you?
  5. If you’re like most people, your thought might not make total sense (even though they FEEL really true). Try writing a counter thought. A counter thought is one that is based on fact and not on the way you’re feeling.   

Here’s an example of an anxious thought pattern and how journaling like this might help: 

I’m feeling REALLY anxious about my upcoming finals. It’s almost the end of school and I’m going to fail. I’m going to fail and I’m never going to get into college. I’m going to fail and I’m never going to get a good job. I’m going to fail because I’m stupid and can’t ever do anything right….” 

I’m feeling pretty terrible and scared. Let me try to journal to feel better, I’m not sure it will work, but whatever, I’ll try because I’m feeling really crappy right now and anything is better than just sitting here worrying. 

I write down “I’m going to fail because I’m stupid and can’t ever do anything right.”

I look at the page for a few seconds. I really believe this. I feel bad about myself. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I focus on my breathing for a few seconds. I open my eyes again and read what I wrote.

I have a hard time coming up with a “counter thought” that makes more sense. I still feel like I’m stupid and can’t do anything right. So I ask myself how I would respond if my friend said these mean words about themselves to me.

….I would say she was silly, that it’s just a final and it won’t determine what happens to her for the rest of her life, I would tell her that she’s smart and if she puts her mind to it she’ll be okay. I’d remind her of all the things she’s good at. I’d offer to help her study if she wanted, and remind her that I’m her friend and I’m here for her. 

I try to re-frame the way I think about the situation and myself. I know that beating myself up isn’t helpful and usually only makes me feel worse. 

I write down “sometimes I make mistakes and that’s okay because everyone does, I’ll study hard and try to pass my test, if I don’t it will still be okay and I’ll try harder next time.” 

I’m not sure I really believe it, but I write it down anyway because all of those things are facts. They are true and not just based on how I’m thinking and feeling. I keep going and writing down things that are nicer about myself. I try to stay positive. I feel a little better. It’s good to get my thoughts and feelings out, even if it is hard to come up with counter thoughts. Even if I don’t fully believe the positive things I wrote down, I’ve still stopped my “runaway train” of anxiety. That alone helps me feel better. 

This is just an example of how journaling can be used to manage thoughts that are really common in people struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. It is SO important to be able to express yourself in a way that works for you. Journaling can be a great way to do that. It doesn’t matter if you express yourself better with art or with words, its just important to express yourself. 

 

REMEMBER: It is SO important to seek treatment from a mental health professional if you are struggling or think you might have a mental illness. Nothing is a substitute for quality care from a professional.
If you are in crisis please call your local crisis number, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or 911. 

 

If you’d like more resources on journaling check out our resources page. Make sure to follow our blog for updates and more content like this!

 

 

We are SUPER excited to announce that Paper Thoughts has been accepted as a speaker at the inaugural TedXNewburgh event! On May 18th Jen O. will be speaking about the work Paper Thoughts is doing and how we are working to support kids in our community. Check out their website and follow them on Facebook for more information! Tickets are limited and first come first serve, but aren’t on sale yet. Make sure you follow them for updates!