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Author GG Renee On Why Journaling Is The Bravest Form Of Self-Care

GG Renee is an author and workshop facilitator who writes about and teaches creativity, self-discovery, and personal growth. She helps others find, accept, and express their truths through writing. Recently, she published Self-Care Check-In, a guided journal that uses research-based techniques to help readers manage stress, nurture their values and goals, and take steps toward concrete change. Take it from us, this journal is not your typical diary: it's thoughtful, challenging, and truly helpful. GG's Instagram and blog are both great resources for anyone looking to get into writing or journaling or in need of any writing prompts. We spoke with GG about what self-care means to her, how journaling can help you heal, and what some of the best practices are for writing.

Anser: What was your relationship with self-care growing up? How has it changed now?
GG: Growing up, my mother taught me to invest time in making myself beautiful — caring for my skin and hair, wearing well-kept clothing, putting myself together and keeping up appearances. As a young woman, I thought that was the meaning of self-care. I don’t recall being taught the importance of nurturing my overall well-being — inside and out.

As a young woman, when things weren't going my way or when I was feeling emotionally drained for any reason, self-care was the first thing to go. I told myself that I’d take better care of my health when I got my life together. Once I’d achieved enough to feel worthy, I’d learn how to meditate, I’d exercise more and spend more time nurturing my body, mind and spirit. There was always something more I needed to fix or prove before I would prioritize my wellness.

My perspective didn’t change until my mental and physical health declined and I knew that I needed to reset, start over and build a strong inner foundation. At that point I wasn’t looking for a temporary fix, I was looking for a shift in consciousness. When I learned that self-care is a multi-dimensional, holistic approach to life, not just a way to find relief or distraction in the moment, that's when my story began to change.  


Anser: You write in your book about a “self-care mindset.” What is that?
GG: Many of us have self-care activities that we rely on when we want to escape, recharge or feel better in the moment. When you develop a self-care mindset, you embrace the idea that healing and renewal are needed daily, not every now and then, to keep you resilient through life’s ups and downs.

It goes beyond specific activities into how you approach every aspect of your life. A self-care mindset sets the tone for the conversations you have, the company you keep, the way you choose commitments and the way you manage your emotions. Your financial health can affect your mental and physical health. The way you show up in your relationships can affect your emotional health and professional life. The way you eat affects your physical and mental health. It’s all connected.

When I learned that self-care is a multi-dimensional, holistic approach to life, not just a way to find relief or distraction in the moment, that's when my story began to change.

"When I learned that self-care is a multi-dimensional, holistic approach to life, not just a way to find relief or distraction in the moment, that's when my story began to change."

Anser: You’ve written in your blog and in your books about how journaling and writing is a way to look at your thought patterns and feelings without judgement. Have you always used writing to help you process? Sometimes when I’m writing I still find it hard not to judge myself or my words on the page. Do you have any advice for people about how to withhold that kind of thinking?
GG: When I was a girl, my diary was a safe space to say things I was afraid to say out loud. Years later, when I was seeking a place to let down my guard and sort through my truth as a woman, I rediscovered journaling. It allowed me to get comfortable with truth-telling again, and it inspired me to admit things to myself that I never had before.

In the privacy of your journal, you can dream big and write your visions, goals, and ideas. You can confess, forgive and let go. When you experience the healing benefits of this release, the fear of judgment begins to subside.

Understanding the concept of beginner’s mind is an excellent way to stop holding back and self-filtering. Beginner’s mind is a key practice of mindfulness and when it comes to writing, it replaces judgment with curiosity. It involves having an open heart with no expectations each time you sit down to write, not seeking a specific result, but to practice the art of opening up.

A creative way to practice beginner’s mind is to write about yourself in the third person like you are talking about someone else. Imagine that you are observing yourself from a distance, but you have access to all your thoughts and feelings. By saying “she” instead of “I”, you can explore your feelings without self-consciousness or shame. This technique offers a sense of detachment that makes it easier to write difficult things.

In the privacy of your journal, you can dream big and write your visions, goals, and ideas. You can confess, forgive and let go. When you experience the healing benefits of this release, the fear of judgment begins to subside.

Anser: What advice do you have for people to get started journaling? Should they write it out by hand or on computers? Is there a time of day that’s best?
GG: In one of my favorite books on the craft of writing, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says, “Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart.” There is definitely a flow that kicks in when you are writing your stream of consciousness, transcribing your thoughts onto the page. Personally, I like to write notes and ideas by hand, then when it comes to organizing those notes and ideas into essays and other content, I move to the keyboard.

There’s a strong case for journaling in the morning to empty your mind, organize your thoughts and set the tone for your day, but ultimately there’s no wrong way to do it and you should experiment to see what works for you. You can write at a specific time and in a specific place each day or you can keep it flexible by carrying a small notebook or using an app on your phone to capture your thoughts on the go.

Anser: Did writing or journaling help you change your own narrative and conception of yourself?
GG: Definitely. It’s allowed me to be productive with my busy mind and emotions. It’s taught me that knowing and accepting myself and my unique point of view is essential to creating the life I want. Now when I'm scared I stare that fear in the face by writing about it, turning it upside down, and flipping it into something I can use to help me grow. Through writing, I no longer feel like a victim of life, instead I’ve become a student of life, taking notes, learning life lessons and being creative with what I learn. 

"Through writing, I no longer feel like a victim of life, instead I’ve become a student of life, taking notes, learning life lessons and being creative with what I learn."

Anser: Your new book, Self-Care Check-In, is both a guided journal and a practical self-help guide. How did you come up with the idea? What was the most surprising thing you learned - either about yourself or about self-care itself - along the way?
GG: I wrote Self-Care Check-In with ambitious women in mind. So many of us push ourselves to accomplish and succeed, but we treat self-care like it’s an occasional luxury. Those of us who think we don’t have time for self-care are the ones who need it most.

We want to do it all: Be successful in our careers, in love, and our relationships. Be physically, spiritually and emotionally fit. Carry ourselves with grace and learn from our mistakes. Make a positive impact on the world in our own unique way. And we want to look good and be happy while doing it.

In my life, I learned the hard way that the best way to commit to happiness is to commit to self-care.  When I wrote Self-Care Check-In, I drew from my personal wellness journey and applied research-backed strategies to help ambitious women discover what’s working, what’s not working, and what areas of their lives need more attention. 

"Those of us who think we don’t have time for self-care are the ones who need it most."

The key message is this: Whatever you set out to do in life, self-care helps you do it with your mind, body, and soul aligned, so taking care of yourself should be the most important part of your success strategy.

The most surprising thing I learned while writing the book was that self-care isn’t necessarily pretty and it doesn’t always feel good — at first. Mammograms can be stressful and uncomfortable, but they are essential for a woman’s long-term well-being.  Having a difficult conversation may not seem relaxing, but in the long-term, it relieves stress and helps your relationships. A holistic approach to self-care includes small, sometimes uncomfortable steps you can take in the short-term, to create the joy and abundance you want in the long run.
 

Anser: Do you have a favorite exercise or prompt from the book?

GG: Self-Care Check-in offers 125 exercises to help you develop self-care strategies that work for you. Each exercise is broken down into three prompts that guide you through self-reflection and discovery, focus and intention, and inspired action and planning.

This is one of my favorite exercises because it helps us shift our inner narrative from “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why is this happening to me?” to “What can I learn from this?”

REFLECT: The challenges we face day-to-day teach us how to be creative and find solutions. What challenges have you been facing lately?

FOCUS: Imagine your life is a canvas and your challenges are the raw materials you can use to create the picture you want. What attitude would help you look past the obstacles and see the possibilities.

DO: Without judgment, look at each challenge you listed in your reflection. Instead of thinking about what could go wrong, write down positive outcomes for each one. 

"The key message is this: Whatever you set out to do in life, self-care helps you do it with your mind, body, and soul aligned, so taking care of yourself should be the most important part of your success strategy."

Anser: 2020 has been a stressful year for a lot of people, to say the least. Your book has many actionable ideas around stress management. What have you found to be helpful actions or journaling exercises for stress reduction?
GG: 2020 has been intense. There is a lot going on in the world, and in all of our personal lives as well.  We often feel that we have to "watch" our worries and that if we're not vigilantly keeping an eye on them, they'll sneak up and get us. Movement is an excellent way to get out of your head and into your body. Activities like walking, stretching, dancing, or any kind of exercise will work.

You can establish a rhythm by setting aside a specific time to exercise or by squeezing in extra movement whenever you can, whether it’s taking the steps instead of the elevator or taking a walk at lunch instead of sitting at your desk. Don’t underestimate the power of movement to lift your spirits and get your creative juices flowing. The next time you are stuck in a fear spiral or seeking a solution to a problem, instead of forcing yourself to sit at your desk until you figure it out, step away and take a walk or get some exercise and enjoy the fresh perspective that comes with it.

You can incorporate journaling into this movement practice by journaling about how you feel before and after the physical activity.  

"A holistic approach to self-care includes small, sometimes uncomfortable steps you can take in the short-term, to create the joy and abundance you want in the long run."

Anser: This line from the introduction to your book really blew me away: “self-care is not an escape from the problems and challenges of life -- it’s the solution.” It seems like such a simple statement but it’s really quite profound. Can you expand on it? And does it mean I stop bingeing Netflix?
GG:
Self-care is the solution because it cultivates positive feelings that make us more resilient. Carving out time to fill our cups each day gives us more energy in the long-run, not less.  However, just because something feels good and relieves stress in the moment doesn’t mean it’s helping in a life-affirming way.

We don’t have to stop binging Netflix as long as we understand that escape is not the ultimate goal of self-care. It’s wonderful to pamper yourself. We can enjoy our bubble baths, facial masks, and short-term pleasures. But self-care can provide deeper healing when we create time + space for long-term wellness habits to thrive.

If you’re not sure what self-care strategies will work best for you, think about what boosts your mood, makes you feel more relaxed and is good for your mental + physical health. Start there. 

Anser: What are other self-care practices of yours besides writing and journaling?
GG: Meditation is the simplest, most effective self-care practice I know, but just because it is simple, doesn’t mean that it comes easy. 

Many people think that if your mind doesn’t go blank during meditation then you’re not doing it right.  When I started meditating consistently about two years ago, I decided on 15 minutes each morning with the goal of slowing down my thoughts, not necessarily silencing them.  Just like in yoga, I knew that if I judged myself and “how well” I did that I was missing the point.

Just a few of the benefits are improved focus, increased patience, lower stress, expanded creativity, and less reactivity. The practice is deeply personal and can go down anywhere, anytime. You can be sitting in your car, standing in the shower, or in the bathroom at work.  It’s available to you whenever you need to recenter.

In addition to journaling and meditation, my self-care includes taking daily walks, reading inspirational content and listening to music that moves me. It can also look like sitting quietly in peace and reflection instead of feeling the need to perform or pretend for others. Choosing not to address or discuss an issue until I’m in a calm, centered frame of mind. Pacing myself, setting guilt-free boundaries and being intentional with my time and energy. Recognizing when I’m carrying weight and feeling emotions that aren’t mine and allowing myself to let go. And choosing joy by protecting the simple pleasures that keep me in awe and appreciating life. 

"Too often we think that we must be fearless to write anything worthwhile, but it’s the process of writing through the fear that makes us brave."

Anser: In a recent Instagram post of yours, you wrote: “Life is like a classroom, offering lessons and tests at every turn. What has life been teaching you lately?” So I’m curious: what has life been teaching YOU lately?
GG: Going through this transformational time in the world, life continues to teach me about practice, momentum and the power of self-care. How small, life-affirming habits create a steady flow of meaning and fulfillment in your life. 

If you are a sensitive, deep thinker like me, this time in the world has you brewing with sensory overload and creative stimulation.  I'm thankful that my creative work provides me with a healthy outlet for all of this energy. I've noticed that the more I write my way through this, the less anxious I get, and the more I'm able to feel inspired and purposeful moment to moment. What's integral to this flow is a commitment to be well no matter what and the courage to write the truth as I experience it. When I do this, life offers me opportunities to share what I create and like Audre Lorde said, "When I use my strength in the service of my vision it makes no difference whether or not I am afraid."

When we write, our willingness to show up on the page begins to translate into how we show up in our lives, creating a path to wholeness and fuller expression. Too often we think that we must be fearless to write anything worthwhile, but it’s the process of writing through the fear that makes us brave.

Anser: Where can people find you and your work?
GG: To learn more about my work, you can find my books, essays and workshops at allthemanylayers.comwww.allthemanylayers.com and I’m on Instagram and Twitter @ggreneewrites.

You can purchase GG Renee's Self-Care Check-In on Amazon.

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