One of the most important tasks I ask ALL my clients to do, whether they are recovering from serious trauma or just thinking about making a few small life changes, is: Track your progress!
Making any kind of changes in our lives involves many small steps which can sometimes feel frustratingly slow. In order to motivate ourselves it’s very important that we track our own progress as we go, to look for patterns. We need to accept that there will be good days and bad days and “two steps forward, one step back” but being able to see overall trends can keep us going on those bad days. We need to be able to look back to earlier days and to compare how we feel now to how we felt then.
How do we do this?Use SUDS!
Well, the most basic level involves simply scoring yourself (on a scale from 1 to 10) on different aspects of how you are feeling.
SUDS (or “subjective measures of distress”) is very simple way to do it. Imagine a scale from 1 to 10, where low SUDS scores are good, high SUDs scores are bad: Higher SUDs levels indicate that we need to take a break, ground ourselves or relax. It is important that you choose what you measure: many people would track their levels of anxiety, of mood (from very happy and contented up to the lowest possible mood) and of energy (from feeling absolutely full of energy right up to totally mentally and physically exhausted.) If you feel it is relevant to you, you might also choose to track how well you are sleeping, your levels of anger or physical symptoms linked to stress such as irritable bowel syndrome.
For example if you were measuring your level of anxiety:
On your scale, a score of 1 might mean “I feel totally relaxed”, halfway up the scale 5 might mean “I feel quite anxious but I’m well able to tolerate it” and at the top of the scale 10 might mean “This is the worst anxiety I can ever imagine”. You can decide yourself what the other scores stand for. Your page might look like this:
2nd January Anxiety 5 Mood 7 Energy 7 Sleep 6
3rd January Anxiety 4 Mood 6 Energy 8 Sleep 6
Some people find it helpful to extend this a little further and keep a private journal where they can record how they are feeling each day. This can be a very powerful and safe way to pour out feelings without worrying about what reception you’ll get
Keep a diary, if it helps
You simply write as much or as little as you like, no rules about grammar and spelling. And after a few weeks, again, it can be helpful to look back and see where you are now, compared to where you were then. Ideally it needs to be more than simply a record of your day. Research shows that people who find MEANING in their experiences benefit from it the most.
Pennebaker in a 1986 study, asked people in four 30-minute sessions to write about negative life experiences or about their daily schedules. Afterward, patients who wrote about life experiences measured higher on CD4 lymphocyte counts–a gauge of immune functioning-than did controls. He said that “by writing, you put some structure and organisation to those anxious feelings.” Other research by Pennebaker indicates that suppressing negative, trauma-related thoughts compromises immune functioning, and that those who write visit the doctor less often.
http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun02/writing.aspx article about research into the benefits of writing about trauma
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!