starting a wellness journal

Ever since COVID-19 spread to Winnipeg, around three months after I stopped drinking, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways I could take better care of myself. Not because I experienced an upheaval due to the lockdowns – oddly, it was the opposite. I actually felt better. I was privileged to receive government benefits, talk to my trauma counselor on a bi-weekly basis, and have the space to grieve things unrelated to the pandemic. I was safe in my own home and I had everything I needed. Apparently, there are others who felt this sort of lockdown relief, too.

What I recognized was, for the majority of my adult life, I had been operating from a state of chaos, dysfunction, and anxiety – an extension of my childhood and teenage years. With this realization and newfound abundance of time, I wondered: What are small rituals I can add to my day to increase my personal well-being? How can I navigate difficult situations better and cope with complicated feelings that inevitably come up?

As a trauma survivor and someone who has recently become active in community organizing, I believe it’s important to ask these types of questions and find answers. Not just for my own sake, but for the sake of my friends and my community, too. Working toward a safer, freer world requires one being able to take good care of themselves first.

Here I am reminded of a passage from The Revolution Starts at Home.

We must ensure the perpetuity, health and safety of our communities, in order to lay the groundwork for deeper liberation. And similarly, as communities, we must find the existent models, re-discover old models, find new models for ensuring our healing. I am asking that those of us who are survivors use our experiences to create these maps, with integrity, love, truthfulness, gentleness and a vision for assuring the dignity and safety of our collective humanity. I am asking that we do the hard work to leave the destructive patterns behind–trade them in for new ones; that we survive our history and circumstances, allow ourselves to feel beautiful and be loved so that we can create that for each other.

Ana Lara

In an attempt to create my own sort of recovery map and model for healing, I’ve started a wellness bullet journal. My intention for this journal and corresponding blog series is to explore what personal well-being means and what it actually looks like day-to-day. My hope is to inspire you to reflect on the different aspects of wellness, become aware of what genuinely replenishes you, and maybe even start a wellness journal of your own.

With that said, each of us have different backgrounds and preferences, so what I share may not completely resonate with you, and that’s OK. As Chani Nicholas often writes, “Take what works for you, and leave the rest.”

Thanks to a microgrant I received from Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art for this project, I was able to purchase a beautiful dot grid journal from Archer & Olive. They’re a US-based business that makes ethical, hand-bound notebooks which come in various sizes and styles. I really love how bright the cover is – it brings me a lot of joy and makes me want to pick it up every day, which is important when doing healing work.

I also bought a few writing utensils from Artists Emporium, including a Sakura white Gelly Roll and a Tombow Dual Brush pen.

I started my journal by drawing a cover page that says “Alanna’s 2021 wellness journal” near the top and has an illustration of hills and earthy layers at the bottom. I used a combination of marker, coloured pencil, and archival ink, and I referenced some older drawings of mine for inspiration.

Creating this page with all the different sections and fine details felt like a good wellness practice in itself. Drawing and colouring has been an interest of mine since I was young – though as time goes on, I seem to do it less and less. So actually sitting down and using my coloured pencils, markers, and pens was really nice.

Next, I made a yearly overview – from May to December 2021 – to log daily memories and highlights. Each page has two months and 30-31 lines each, depending on the month. I wanted this to be at the front of my journal so I could remember to practice gratitude for the people in my life, and the simple pleasures as well.

If you aren’t aware, neuroscience shows that being grateful produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment. When we take time to remember positive experiences and express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin – two neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel good.

A few nice memories I wrote down include:

  • eating southern-fried tofu in the sun
  • feeding chickadees with Jacq
  • smelling lilacs + cherry blossoms

As you can see, I didn’t fill all the days. The reality for me is not every day has a highlight or something memorable. I still have days where I don’t leave my apartment or do anything special – there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not aiming for perfection.

After the gratitude log, I made a spread which lists and defines the eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, physical, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, occupational, and financial. I researched the meaning of each dimension and, in some cases, crafted the definitions in a way that resonated with me.

I defined the eight dimensions of wellness as follows:

  • emotional – handling life’s stressors and adapting to change and difficult times
  • physical – maintaining a healthy, active quality of life through exercise, nutrition, and sleep
  • social – nurturing relationships with friends, family, and community members, and having a strong support system
  • spiritual – expanding life’s meaning and purpose, and understanding the values, beliefs, and morals that guide your actions
  • intellectual – recognizing your creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
  • environmental – occupying pleasant spaces and creating a safe, inclusive, and sustainable community that recognizes the impact of personal and social decisions
  • occupational – choosing work that provides a sense of purpose, meaning, and satisfaction
  • financial – being able to meet your needs and making choices to support a stable future

On the opposite page, I jotted down a couple practical items for each dimension of wellness, based on practices I find supportive and helpful.

Below are examples of what I wrote down:

  • emotional – journaling to process, understand, and validate feelings
  • physical – going for a daily walk or bike ride
  • social – volunteering with organizations that align with my values
  • spiritual – observing and appreciating the plants, animals, and seasons
  • intellectual – trying new recipes, projects, and courses
  • environmental – participating in my local Buy Nothing group
  • occupational – using my skills and knowledge while gaining new experience
  • financial – tracking my spending and not overindulging

Out of all these items, I struggled the most to figure out what spiritual practices I like and have been doing, which makes sense considering my history. In general, trying to figure out life’s meaning and purpose can be really difficult without having some degree of an existential crisis. Not to mention, understanding the values, beliefs, and morals that guide your actions requires a fair amount of introspection and awareness. It can feel like a lot. For me at least!

Anyway, I didn’t force myself to come up with all the answers – that would defeat the purpose of this journal. It’s my hope that spiritual practices will naturally emerge through further work and creativity.

In my next post, I will share more spreads from my journal and write further about the practices which have supported me in my personal recovery.

Thank you for reading, and take good care.