When I crawl into bed at the end of a long day, my mind will jump to the worst and cringiest moments from the last 24 hours, like a projector flickering through a reel of everything I wish I could forget. I can't believe I forgot to book that appointment. Where did I leave that shirt I wore last week? I shouldn't have eaten that third cookie before bed. Why did I say that one silly thing seven years ago? This is what my nights used to be like.
At the start of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, thoughts like this began finding their way into my head at all hours of the day and became more constant and more panic-inducing. But in addition to mentally sifting through my catalogue of daily concerns, I was also worrying about whether or not it was safe to go for a walk in front of my building and when I'd be able to visit my family again. My worries became more meaningful than ever before, and I decided I needed to do something to ease my worries, get my day back on track, and take care of myself mentally. So a couple days into the shelter-in-place order, after my nightly breathing exercises, I broke out the journal I'd been trying to keep on and off for the last month and began writing.
I dedicated one lined page to my thoughts for the day. The only catch? I was only allowed to write positive thoughts, thoughts that made me feel thankful despite everything that was happening around me. Taking my time, I filled up the page with my thoughts of gratitude for everything from the apartment I live in and the food in my pantry to reading a good line in a book and having a video call with a friend, no matter how brief.
I once heard that, in order to make something a habit, you have to do it 21 days in a row, so that's what I set out to do with my new gratitude journal. At first, it was something I had to remind myself about, leaving it on my nightstand so I wouldn't forget to open it up and jot down the positive moments from my day. But after a couple weeks, I really started looking forward to filling out my daily page and reflecting on everything good that happened to me throughout the day. Did I bake a delicious apple crumble? Did I go for a short walk (with my mask)? Did I get to spend extra time with the kitties I was fostering?
Giving myself a time and a space to step back from all of that for a second is the kindest decision I could have made for myself and for my mind.
Thoughts like this began to come to the front of my mind more easily as I would wind down for the evening, and soon enough, I'd surpassed the 21-day mark and my gratitude journal began to feel like a safe place where I could let my mind relax and feel at peace. I could sleep easier knowing that, even though I couldn't see my loved ones or leave my apartment that day, good things were still happening all around me. Life was moving forward, and that included all the little positives.
Today, I write in a slightly larger journal with pages that have enough lines to hold everything I'm thankful for. Yes, I still have negative thoughts and worry frequently about news alerts that pop up onto my phone from all over the world. But giving myself a time and a space to step back from all of that for a second is the kindest decision I could have made for myself and for my mind. Is it cheesy to write down that I'm grateful for my gratitude journal? Tonight, I might just have to.