You just finished working an overtime shift and you’re ready to head home after completing your paperwork. As you drive in your car, you can’t wait to shower off the day and hop into bed.
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But the last few hours of your shift were tough. It’s still weighing on you, but you don’t want to bring the heaviness home. You want to put it behind you, but it hasn’t been easy lately to do that with the extra shifts and difficult calls.
The stress has been impacting you in more ways than one, but you’re not sure how to process it all. For some, journaling is a great way to self-reflect and unload, but writing has never been your “thing.”
If opening up a journal and seeing blank page after blank page is overwhelming, then there are other ways you can get what’s in your brain out in the world. Here are five alternatives to journaling if you don’t like to write or are looking for different ways to express and explore your thoughts and feelings.
1. Be artistic.
You probably spend most of your time as a “left-brain thinker.” You’re analytical and logical. It’s part of your job and embedded in your DNA.
Consider using the right side of your brain to give your overused side a break by getting creative. This will look different for every person, but you could try drawing, painting or doodling in a sketchbook.
The best part about art? You don’t need to show or explain it to anyone. Use it as a safe place to express yourself and externalize your feelings. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll be ready to share it with someone else. But if not, that’s OK too.
2. Write a poem.
Jeffrey Stagg, a 45-year law enforcement veteran and officer with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, finds joy in combining his love of music with poem writing.
His first poem, “Police Man,” is written to be sung to the tune of Billy Joel’s classic “Piano Man.”
“I had been kicking that around in my head for a while and I thought, ‘I’m just going to sit down and write this out,'” Stagg recalled. A few months later, Stagg wrote another poem: “You’ve got the good cops.” This time, the poem was written to be sung to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.”
“I wrote that poem after a trying few weeks for law enforcement where several officers had been shot and killed and many wounded,” he said. “It was a reminder about the good cops who serve our communities every day.”
Writing the poems, according to Stagg, was therapeutic: “To sit down and write out these poems … it was exactly what was in my heart and what I had been going over in my mind. I finally decided to just pt down exactly how I felt. And it just all poured out after that.”
3. Speak out loud.
OK, I hear you. No writing.
Instead, try speaking out loud to process how you feel. It sounds weird, but speaking out loud forces your brain to slow down and process differently by using the language center of your brain.
By slowing down, you’re less likely to become bombarded by your thoughts. Before you knock it, give it a try.
Take out your phone and use an audio recording app as you talk to yourself out loud. Unsure of what you should talk about? Start with two things you’re grateful for and why. Later, you could dive a bit deeper into a current challenge you’re facing and possible solutions to the problem. Or maybe you can start talking about something you want to let go of, but need to talk it out to figure out how to make that thought a reality.
And don’t forget: your brain is made to think. Don’t push away thoughts. They will come back to you tenfold in unexpected ways. Treat yourself as you would treat a good friend by practicing compassion and understanding toward yourself.
4. Start taking photos.
Have you ever looked at a photograph and automatically understood how the photographer was feeling in that moment in time?
Challenge yourself to take a photo every day. The photo you decide to take – and whether or not it includes the emotion you felt at that particular moment – is up to you. You can print the photos digitally or go old school and use a Polaroid camera. There are also a variety of smartphone apps you can use to store and categorize your photos.
Look back at your photos after six months to a year. What are recurring themes or subjects? Is there a dominant mood? What patterns in the photos do you see?
5. Track your mood.
Do specific calls you respond to regularly cause you to tense up for hours afterward? By tracking your moods in real-time, you can learn about your emotional patterns and triggers. And by understanding how you react, you can put a plan in place for the next time similar emotions resurface.
[READ: How cops can identify the symptoms of depression]
There are plenty of mood-tracking apps to download on your smartphone, but Daylio, MoodFit and WorryWatch are a few choices to get you started. These apps all have one thing in common: they help you gain clearer insights about your moods and behaviors. The end goal? To make positive lifestyle changes and improve your overall mental health.