Processing our Emotions: Finding What Works

Kat Nicholls
By Kat Nicholls,
updated on Mar 13, 2024

Person sitting by the sea

Why is processing our emotions so important and what tools can help us?

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like you’ve not stopped? Then when it gets to bedtime, our mind is whirring, trying to process what’s been going on for us all day. 

Carving out space to reflect and understand our feelings can have a real impact on our mental health and wellbeing. This week on our podcast, we’re joined by psychotherapist Bhavna Raithatha, creative VA and journal guide Sasha Glasgow, and author and journal guide Hannah Bevan to discuss the power of processing. 

Alongside journaling, we discuss other tools that help us process our emotions, the role of therapy and when it might be helpful to step back from processing. Listen below, or wherever you get your podcasts.


Edited for clarity and brevity.

Kat: Hello everyone, welcome to another episode of Happiful: Finding What Works. In today's episode, we're going to look at the importance of processing emotions, why it's helpful, and what tools can help us, with my three guests, Sasha, Bhavna, and Hannah. I'll ask you to introduce yourselves. Sasha, I'll come to you first.

Sasha: Hi, I'm Sasha. I'm a creative VA in my day life, but for the last 20-plus years, I've had a deep, eventful journaling habit. Now I'm also a writer and a journaling guide, helping people understand themselves through the written word.

Kat: Amazing, thank you so much. Bhavna, coming to you next.

Bhavna: Good afternoon. Thank you for having me. Goodness me, my remit, I'm an accredited psychotherapist with the BACP, also a coach, clinical supervisor, critical incident debriefer, speaker, and writer. Sasha, I love the power of the written word and how deeply it can help us heal. So yes, that’s me.

Kat: This is going to be a good conversation, we've got a group of writers on the line! This is great. Hannah, coming to you next.

Hannah: So, my name's Hannah. I live in Falmouth, Cornwall, and I'm the founder of Journal for Joy. I facilitate creative journaling workshops for all kinds of groups, organisations, workplaces, and events. The journaling I focus on is around playful creativity and positive emotion, hence the name Journal for Joy, as well as hosting journaling workshops. I'm the author of Hometown, a creative journal designed to help you explore and love the place you live. I'm also a writer, so I'm a freelance writer and I split my time between my journaling stuff and writing for clients, mainly in wellness and outdoor space.

Kat: Thank you. I think this will be a great conversation about different types of processing, but I feel like we’re going to be focusing on writing a fair bit. 

To start, it would be great to understand what it means to process our emotions and why it's important for wellbeing. Bhavna, can you tell us more about what it really means to process emotion?

Bhavna: Absolutely. Coming from a very psychological background, processing is about bringing things to the fore, to analyse, understand, and clinically gain insight into what's been happening and what we've been carrying. The way it happens is talking it through - obviously, with psychotherapy, you sit and speak with someone. It's very important because today's world is disenfranchised. We’re very isolated from each other. Counselling and therapy have become almost a privilege for the few, which is heartbreaking. 

We've lost the sense of community we had 20, 30 years ago where you could nip next door, have a cup of tea with your neighbours, and put the world to rights. That’s what they said, we had a good old natter and put the world to rights. We've lost that mostly through economic migration, and it is affecting people. We saw that during COVID. 

So, processing, talking it through, getting it out, getting it off your chest, and hopefully letting it go. The problem comes when X happens and we ruminate on it. Unfortunately, it gets deeper and deeper, and then you've got the scar tissue that we then have to work through later on. It's very much about looking at what's impacting you, why is that particular thing or those particular things coming up constantly, and what you can do about it. Processing is a place of extreme power because it means you are in charge, even though you may not feel it. There's something you can do about it.

Kat: I can resonate with the idea of being able to take control over something. Even if you haven't really got that control, it's having the sense of investigating it in yourself and bringing it to light. That's brilliant. Thank you. 

Sasha, I wonder if that has rung true to you and if you can tell us more about your relationship with processing thoughts, feelings, and emotion, what this has looked like in your life so far, and what tools in particular have supported you?

Sasha: For the longest time, decades now, it has been processing through the written word. I've had diaries and journals since I was a teenager, whether that was writing intricate details of my quite mundane life, like in my teens up until now when I think I probe more and ask more questions. There's more experience of life to reflect on and to ask myself how I felt about that, how I responded to that. Is this a trend that's come up before? 

I find what's really interesting with processing thoughts through journaling is that it's definitely a marathon, not a sprint. You can go through seasons and cycles, and you can usually spot things after a little while. With the way that I journal, I don't always tend to start with words. I do it in different ways. It might be audio journaling where I go out on the walk and I just set a voice note to record on my phone, and I kind of talk things through with myself. Or it might be starting by writing a line, drawing a line at the top of a page, and doing an X marks the spot for how I'm feeling that day, or if I'm working towards a goal, like how committed am I to that thing. Then I draw out from that X, like okay, what does that X in that place on this day mean? There are lots of interesting ways that I tend to journal that don't necessarily always start with a question but still bring things out of me.

Kat: I appreciate your work and what I'm drawn to personally is that it's not always, here's a journaling prompt and go, answer the question. You have such creative ways of investigating things and asking questions. Sometimes you relate it to music and things around us, which inspires me. It's not just about writing the words; it's about finding what works for you.

Sasha: I always say, it's about how it feels, not how it looks. I take inspiration from everywhere because everything can inspire us. In some workshops, I do silly things like include TikToks, memes and stuff like that because they're relevant, it’s of the now. I’m not someone who’s like, don’t involve your phone, your phone has nothing to do with this. Sometimes I use my phone to journal. It's where the screenshots we keep, like, why have we got them? Everything is evidence and information and has the potential to be influential as well.

Kat: Exactly. That makes it more accessible, saying, you can go out for a walk and talk into your phone. If writing isn't for you, this is another way of doing it or this can spur something else on. Thank you.

Hannah, coming to you with the same question. I'd love to hear more about your relationship with processing and any tools that have supported you.

Hannah: Yeah, well it probably won't come as a surprise, but journaling has genuinely been one of the most powerful tools for me to manage my wellbeing and work through my emotions, whether those are positive or negative ones, and just to get to know myself better. Really just like a lot of the stuff you were saying then Sasha, I completely resonate with. You know, my journey might look different from one day to the next. Sometimes I'll use a prompt, sometimes I'll just start with a number about how I feel. So it's very similar to your scale and X marks the spot. And I've journaled since I was young. Same as you, like, from like a really young child, like Winnie the Pooh lock and key journal, with the boys that I fancy or whatever. But nowadays I'm really getting in tune, I feel like, with who I am.

That's only really been over the last couple of years that I've been more consistent with my journaling and I've noticed a massive shift in my mindset. It might be to do with age and life experience as well, but I put a lot of it down to journaling and just actively noticing how I feel and what I need. It's helped me to also bring more attention to the good in my life. We all have a bit of a negativity bias, right? Whereas, you know, I don't disregard any of the negative stuff that's happening, but it's really helped me to bring more weight and more balance to that more positive stuff, which has had a knock-on effect in all areas of my life. 

I also meditate regularly. I feel like that goes hand in hand quite well with journaling. If you are reflecting on the meditation or setting an intention for what you want it to be about. When my emotions have felt too overwhelming in the past, I've seen a psychotherapist, which was a huge help for me in processing. 

One of the other ways that I find really helpful, and I'm sure other people will find this too - if I need to work through something, I find that one of the most effective things that I can do is take myself out on a solo walk along the coast path somewhere in Cornwall. So I'll go for a long-ish one, you know, maybe four or five or six hours. 

And honestly, it's such an incredible way for me personally to get clarity and get in touch with my thoughts and feelings. I find that something quite magic happens actually for me. It's usually quite far in, so it might be to do with the fact that I've been on my own for quite a long time. It's the sort of repetition of putting one foot in front of the other and just being out in nature. 

What I do is I let myself - if there's an anxious thought or stress or anything that's like a repetitive emotional thought that I want to process, I just let it come up and I almost have a conversation with myself in my mind. So if ‘you are a rubbish writer’ comes up and ‘you can't be charging people money to be writing’ I'll respond with kindness to that. So it's like a conversation, asking, is that true? You know, there's a lot of clients that pay me and are really happy with the work I do, so I just kind of let myself have this conversation, have it out, let myself feel the feelings. Then something quite magic happens, my mind goes quite quiet and then it's just me and the outdoors and everything is just so peaceful. So, for me, that's a really effective way to process and I'll often journal about that experience afterwards, but at the time it's just being out in nature and walking. 

Kat: Thank you for sharing that. I think being outside in nature and meditation - walking can be quite meditative as well. It's one foot in front of the other. You're really mindful, aware of your surroundings and focused. I've started quite liking walks without listening to anything. I used to always listen to podcasts or music, but I started really enjoying it… there's even a trend now called silent walking. It's just going out and not having your headphones in, being aware of what's going on. I find that adds to the experience. Thank you for sharing that.

Hannah: That's okay. I didn't know that was a trend, the silent walking thing, that's just something I do.

Kat: We've got an article about it on Happiful. I'll link that in the show notes if anybody is interested!

Hannah: Absolutely. I do like to listen to podcasts on my walks, but if I'm ever going out on a walk where I want to get to a solution or I just need some time for myself, I don't even take my headphones, you know, I just go out and listen to the ocean, it's a pretty good soundtrack.

Kat: Oh man, yes. I'm very jealous of that. Having the ocean nearby must be amazing. So nice. So we've talked about tools we can use like journaling, meditation, or walking. Now I'm quite interested to learn more about counselling and therapy as something that you mentioned, Hannah, that you found helpful. 

So, Bhavna, I wonder if you can tell us more about how counselling specifically can support with processing and any other tools that you think might complement therapy as people are going through it.

Bhavna: Absolutely. Hannah, I have to echo going for a walk on the beach and hearing the ocean. There is nothing like it in the world, especially on the north coast. Staggering. 

So, you know, how can counselling help? As I said earlier, it is about providing space. It's the gift of space, communication, and communion with another human being who is educated and experienced in helping. I used to train counsellors and supervise counsellors. There are a lot of people going through courses who don’t have the capacity to work with clients and shouldn't be. And I'm sorry if that may bring a bad taste in anybody's mouth, but for me, it's about ethical practice and safety. Because if somebody's coming to you and paying you good money to help them process something and you are just playing at being a therapist, you are causing more damage. We have a duty of care. That's why we have things like accreditation and licensing. So that's the first thing I'm going to say. 

The second thing is, when you go and see somebody, it takes a lot of courage to have worked through everything, all the nos in your spirit, to take that first step to make the phone call, to talk to them or send the email or text, or however, you know, send the owl or carrier pigeon to create that connection and feel safe enough to talk to somebody. And then you have your meeting. It's about creating space, creating safety. My responsibility as a therapist is to create a safe space where you can come and talk about absolutely anything. I've been doing this for 30 years. There is nothing I haven't heard. I'm not here to judge; none of my business. Whatever rocks your boat, God bless you. I'm here to help you deal with whatever you are bringing to our sessions. It's about space, safety, not being isolated. We are the most isolated in our human history, despite being socially connected to everything and everyone that moves. 

So, the how part - the tools. Number one, exercise. When we're stressed and depressed, our shoulders rise, breathing is shallow, and we sit often like prawns, in that fetal position because we are burdened. Exercise allows energy to flow easier. If people can get up for a walk, that is massive, because it's a full-body workout.

When I say exercise, people often think, "Oh God, I can't be bothered to go to the gym." Nobody's asking you to go to the gym. Put your boots on, put one foot in front of the other, go to Tesco's, buy some milk, do something, get out of the house because you need to change the energy. If we look at energy blockages and energy medicine, it is about movement, flow, and breathwork. Movement increases your heart rate and breathing, which means you're going to flow. When you come back and sit down, you'll have the endorphins kicking in and buzzing, the feel-good, happy moments. That can help things like anxiety and depression. Get out, get some fresh air. Especially here in the south, we've had so much greyness, so much rain that I'm halfway through building an arc in the garden because, you know, it's just like, when is this going to end? We've got a beautiful day today. So it's about getting out because it's not always as cold and dark as we imagine sitting in our dark rooms indoors and looking outside. 

Yoga and walking, as I've said. Yoga allows us to be mindful and it is a very gentle practice you can do at home. There are a billion videos on YouTube now, and TikTok as Sasha said, but doing it in a group, you've got the community, you're communing with other human beings, so you're not isolated and alone. Writing, I mean, there is no greater tool in the world than grabbing a pen and putting it to paper. Alright? And, for people who like stats, Dr James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin has proven the power of the written word in healing and addressing PTSD in the lab. He had a group of people writing about a particular trauma for four days in a row for 15 minutes at a time. They found that the impact of the trauma reduced significantly. Writing has been used throughout human history. People used to write to each other; I have pen pals, I love them, I love writing. It's time for us to express and process our emotions. As Sasha already said, it's about organic processing. 

The third thing that people don't often think about is our consumption of food and alcohol. We are what we eat. If you are eating junkie food, highly saturated, your body's not getting the nourishment and goodness that it needs to deal with all of the hormones that are released. Alcohol is a depressant. So if you think, oh, I'll have a couple of shots to feel cool, wait till tomorrow morning and you will wake up completely impacted by it. Okay? Watch your food, maybe keep a food diary for a couple of weeks and see if there's a pattern of eating something and how you feel the following day. That will give you massive data. 

The other thing is spiritual practice. Everybody thinks, oh, I'm not religious. I haven't mentioned religion. I'm saying spiritual practice, whomever you believe to be your higher power and whatever values you hold that are beneficial to your world. Hannah, you mentioned gratitude, journaling about gratitude, saying thank you to whomever is out there that puts oxygen in the world for us to breathe. That blows my mind. If you are part of a religious or spiritual community, try to attend meetings more often if you're able. That is communion with other human beings. 

We forget that we are tribal, we are still hunter-gatherers twice removed. We are not built to be working 24/7. We are not cogs in machines. We are human beings, precious souls. We are supposed to get up, put our loincloths on, go out there, gather our nuts and berries, come back, cook, sit around a campfire, talk, communicate, put the world to rights, make love, and reconnect with ourselves and with each other. Then rinse and repeat, get a good eight hours of sleep or however many hours of darkness. We're reset, ready for tomorrow's hunting, gathering, and whatever shenanigans we get up to. 

How have we gone from that relaxation under the starlit sky and campfires to this? I don't know if I've got 30 seconds to eat something before my next meeting. While Zoom is phenomenal at connecting us from different parts of the world, Hannah, you are just down the road, but we are all talking. But the toxic dark side of this is we are now available 24/7 across the world. It's about hygiene, a tool of self-care, digital hygiene to be able to switch off and say no. I've been working with organisations for a long time about breaking at the end of the day when you finish work. You switch it off, go home, and reconnect with your family.

My father died at work when I was nine. He had a heart attack at the age of 32 and dropped dead at work. We never saw him again. My family grew up; my mother was severely traumatised by becoming a widow with three kids at the age of 29 and being shunned by our Indian community because they saw her as bad luck for ‘killing her husband’ even though he was in another continent. All of these are important foundational blocks of who we are as human beings. 

The other big tool that I've mentioned is community. Put things in your diary with your beloved friends to go and meet with them, to have a hug. I live alone. I have a very small community here, very, very small. I mean, you know, half a hand, okay? So there are days I do not see another physical human being unless I go down the road to do some shopping. I am very resilient. But not everybody is. Again, we are human beings. We need contact, we need that hug.

If people listening to this feel isolated, do a quick check with yourself. Just check in. When was the last time I saw a human being? When was the last time I went for a coffee with my friend? When was the last time I picked up the phone and spoke to someone? You were talking about current trends. The younger generation, I'm 51, the younger ones, they don't phone me, they text first. I've been to networking meetings where people, business owners who are having apprentices, they've said we've had battles because they will not answer the phone. They will not pick up a phone and talk to a human being. They will email them, send a carrier pigeon, or text them, whatever. They will not talk. This is a problem for this generation because I'm seeing a huge spike in social anxiety. If you don't talk to other people, you are not going to learn how to talk, communicate, and manage anxiety and disagreements. Then we have people grabbing their weapons and going and shooting people. 

Those are the tools I would heartily recommend. Please listen to this a few times and take what you will. We're creating a beautiful, delicious buffet today where people have so much from so many different mindsets that you can pick and choose and create your own healing program.

Kat: Absolutely. It's brilliant to have all these different ideas. Everything you said there is important, and bringing it all together is crucial. It's like having a buffet, picking the bits you need. For anyone whose ears prick up at the talk about food and nutrition, we have an upcoming episode about food and mood, so we'll be delving into that topic further. Thank you for sharing. 

Moving on to a question for you again, Bhavna, about any particular demographics or groups of people that may face barriers in processing thoughts and emotions or accessing the tools you mentioned?

Bhavna: ​​Absolutely. This is a passionate topic for me as an Indian lesbian woman living in the southwest. During my master's training, I often asked how therapists would handle my presence in their clinical practice. I was the only Indian in my group. Responses often relied on person-centred counselling principles, assuming they were sufficient. However, they knew nothing about my background - being raised as an Indian child in East Africa, attending a Catholic convent school, and navigating two different cultures in Africa before immigrating to the UK. 

I faced racism, with "go home P*ki" being the first thing I heard in Stratford, East London, where I lived for 30 years. I remember my response at the time, thinking, "Well, what does that mean?" So I looked it up, and it was a derogatory term for Indian people. My innocent nine-year-old mind was saying, "But I'm Indian, I can't go home." Being vilified as a bereaved child, being gay without understanding what gay meant, and being picked on at school, even in an all-girls school, was crazy. Growing up in the East End of London, experiencing such diversity, all of that needs to be part of therapist training. 

I've supervised students doing placements with a couple of organisations here and my question is, how would you deal with me? I'm in front of you as a person of colour, as a female person of colour. Okay, so a person of colour ticking one box, DEI from hell, yeah, female. Three out of three, how are you going to deal with me? And if I presented with mental health problems, how would you know how to deal with me? 

The reason I raise this passionately is because I work with clients from my days of lecturing to running my clinical practices, where I've had African and Caribbean women and men saying, "It's refreshing that you understand my culture, what's expected at home, how my parents view me, and the lines I have to toe." I haven't got the capacity while I'm on my knees to explain to a therapist with pure Eurocentric training who may be the loveliest, kindest, warmest, most open person, but there's racial bias because they know little about who I am and where I come from.

So, those are the demographics we need to look at, especially here with a 98% Caucasian population. I'm part of the 2%. So, that is very important because if I come to you and you are expecting me to open up and be vulnerable, I need to know that I am safe with you and that you are not going to have… I've had clients tell me they saw a therapist who had a Bible in the top drawer next to her chair. And whenever she went to see this client, the therapist would open the Bible and read verses. Now, how this person is doing that, I want to get my torch and pitchfork out. It breaks my heart because we are doing fellow human beings a disservice.

So, those are massive barriers to processing emotion. How am I going to open up to you? I remember I talked about the scar tissue right at the beginning, the injury of racism. I mentioned I'm a critical incidents debriefer. I was on-site the day after the London bombings with the emergency responders supporting them. On the way there, I was on the tube, it was empty. There was one other person at the other end of the carriage I was in, okay? And I was scared. I can't hide this Indianness, I can't hide my brown skin. I don't want to, I'm proud of who I am, but I was scared because after 9/11, I was spat at by strangers on the street. Those are my lived experiences.

As a therapist, how are you going to support me? What I would say is when people reach out to find a therapist, I'm simply going to ask them to find a little bit more courage. I know that's asking a lot when you are on your knees, but just ask questions. Do you know anything about my culture? Do you have any friends or family from a different culture? How might you help me? 

Recently, I've had three back-to-back clients from a South Asian culture who are also gay and haven't told their parents because they're terrified of rejection and death. There is a genuine fear of being killed for bringing shame to the family. How are you going to contain that? How are you going to help that person? So I'm looking at it both from the client's point of view and also to empower the client to ask your therapist questions. Because any good therapist will not mind, they will welcome your questions because it allows them to say, "I can successfully help you with that," or, "Actually, I don't know very much, but I'm really open to learning with you." Our clients are not there to teach us or train us. That's our duty to get our stuff sorted out. So it's about looking at who you are working with. So pick well, ask questions.

And if they've got a referral or recommendations from other clients, that's always a good sign because you will see what's there. So, you know, those are the barriers that come to mind. And the processing tools, as I've said, be as open as you possibly can please. Once you have found somebody you can connect with, be as open as you possibly can because being open… it's scary speaking to a random stranger about deep-seated issues that you've held dear. 

The other thing is not everybody wants to let go of that old friend, however toxic and disruptive it is to them. And we see that often in addictions. It's like, yeah, it's destroying your life, but it's all I know, this is my crutch. So it's a process and it's going to take time. There are no magical pills. Getting into therapy is in itself a process that is going to take time to work through and to get an understanding and to get clarity and hopefully get that aha moment of like, oh, that's why I do what I do and change it. So I hope that's enough.

Kat: Absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It was really amazing to hear about your lived experience and how it has influenced your approach as a counsellor. The tips you provided for overcoming barriers are incredibly important. Thank you for sharing.

I have a similar question for Sasha and Hannah as well, about any particular groups of people that you find, because you both do a lot of journaling work, you do a lot of introspection - maybe your audiences, do you notice any particular patterns there? And Sasha, I'm going to come to you first.

Sasha: For me, I've always said I'm a person who does through doubt. I'm very open about the fact that I deal or have dealt a lot in the past with self-doubt. I find freedom and expression in the written word, which I sometimes can't have in conversation. I process in my journal before conversations or when listening to voice notes, taking bullet points to reply thoroughly because, if nothing else, I’m a good student. I always say I’m a human, not a teacher, but I find freedom in writing, and I noticed that the people who respond to the written word and also find expression in the written word, maybe they’re hoping they too can find freedom in it. 

Because I regard my journal as my freedom space. I say that anything goes there. I have no fear there. I have no rules there. And when I say that I don't need to consistently write every single day, I just know it's my freedom space because I know it's always there and available whether I choose to use it or not. And so I notice that there are a lot of people who will come and journal along with me or read my blog. And I think what they're looking for is how to do it right. Because often we are looking for how to do things right. And the first thing I tell them is there are no rules. 

What I notice is that, and in my own practice, I like to just list down the things that might be happening in my day. They might be small, and I make space for them—all the very minute things, as well as the times when big things are going on, if I feel like journaling at the time. The reason I make space for it all is because over the years, I've gotten used to recognising what my voice sounds like. When big decisions or conflicts arise, I can recognise what is within my control and what is not. That's why I love to journal about the small things. If there's one thing I notice with anyone who journals with me, it's people who find it hard to carve out time. Even if they can only commit to one thing, they make time for themselves to do that one thing. They want to be able to hold space for themselves in a small way. 

My journal is my freedom space for thoughts, but I often take what I write off the page and into my real life. Sometimes that means seeking CBT therapy and speaking to someone, but it's where I recognise patterns and hear my voice. I know when something doesn't sound like me. I like to hold space for people so they can hear themselves and take that into their real life. It might involve conversations with others or with a doctor, or simply getting out of their head and moving their body. People who don't have time want to know how to do things right and are looking for a little space for freedom. That's what I know for me.

Kat: I think that's amazing. People who don't have time and want to get it right are going to learn to make time for themselves, and that there are no rules. I think that's an amazing thing for them to come away with. Love that. 

And, Hannah, coming to you on this as well. Do you notice any particular groups or types of people drawn to the work that you do?

Hannah: Yeah, so first of all, I would say 99% of people who come to my workshops are women. They're usually women who know that journaling is good for their wellbeing and either want to start it, need inspiration to get going, or have tried before but struggled to make it a habit. Mostly, they are women. I don't know whether it's because the brand I put out there is more feminine and attracts more females or because there's still a stigma for males in society in expressing their emotions. I think that's changing, but I still feel that, from my lived experience, women are more open to how journaling or writing and can help them.

So that's a big thing I've noticed. 

Alongside guiding people in conventional journaling prompts, I also set creative tasks like drawing or creative writing, such as poems or storytelling. Interestingly, most people I work with haven't drawn or written creatively since childhood. They might find they really enjoy it and surprise themselves with their abilities. It taps into something they haven't expressed before, helping them to convey emotions in a new way, which can be quite a soothing experience. 

You know, I think it's quite sad that many of us did that without question as children. We would just open our journals or grab paper and felt tips and express ourselves. I had a folder full of stories and poems that I wrote all the time without worrying about what anyone thought. It never crossed my mind to care. And I do think that’s sad, that that's something we lose as we get older because there are so many benefits to making space for it. It helps express feelings in a new way, but it also provides a sense of relief against perfectionism.

When we live in this world of adulting and all the responsibilities we have, and all this heavy serious stuff going on in the world, giving yourself time and space to do something playful and creative that explores your emotions at the same time can be beneficial. Most people I work with haven't done that before, even people like illustrators who've never written a poem for fun. It's a common thread I've picked up on.

Kat: There's definitely something about not feeling like we deserve the time to play or we don't feel like we have the time for ourselves to join a journaling workshop and take that time for introspection. So that's really interesting, and I totally agree. I think playing with pens, drawing, and being creative is such an amazing way to connect with your inner child and just have that moment of freedom from adulting, as you put it so well. We were all nodding furiously as you said that. Yep, we hear that.

Bhavna: Can I add one more thing? Sorry. 

Kat: Yes, of course. 

Bhavna: Did you have some more Hannah? 

Hannah: That’s Okay. I was just going to say as well, although it is very playful and people do enjoy it and surprise themselves, often they might have an outburst of emotion, someone might cry and release something, you know, and often it's happy tears. I had one time when we were out on the coast path and we did a walking journal workshop, myself and a friend who leads walking groups. She was writing a poem about the sea, but it brought up some grief for her for somebody in her family who had died. And she said she hadn't even made that connection with them in the sea until she sat to write this poem. 

So, although it is playful and it helps us to tap into our inner child, I also think it just taps into, I'm not an expert on this, I'm not a psychologist, but I really feel, from what I've seen, that it taps into a side of our emotion that we can't always access in that sort of way. And maybe the fact that it is sort of playful and it does allow our inner child to come out, maybe that really helps with that. 

Bhavna: Hugely, and I love inner child work, it's one of my superpowers when I work with clients to help them reconnect with their little one inside. And one of the things I wanted to add about writing is, I've worked with people slightly older than myself whose generation were shamed at school about, whether they were left-handed for example, or writing with fountain pens. The second I mention a fountain pen, or I've been aware that with one particular person - I exclusively use fountain pens. I love them - but for them, it brought up a lot of traumatic memories about inky fingers and being beaten because they'd got ink on their shirt. So for me, it was like, okay, need to be mindful of this. 

It's really important, like I said, Hannah, that it will bring up emotion because we are changing the chemical signatures rushing around our heads, grief, trauma, whatever. And as you start to process it and literally change those chemical signatures through your arm and onto words, it's going to unblock emotion.

Kat: That's a good point to add, it’s amazing what it can bring up from our childhoods. We've talked quite a bit about the different ways we can process and how beneficial it is. But I'd be interested to hear if anyone's had experiences of times when they've not felt the need to process or felt the need to step away from processing. Sasha, I know you and I have had conversations along this line, so I wonder if you can share your thoughts here.

Sasha: Sure. I actually had one at the beginning of January, one thing that I keep coming back to is that journaling has enabled me to give myself permission in various places. Sometimes, if it's not there, I just let it be because I know I'll always come back to it. Like I said at the start, journaling is a marathon, not a sprint. I consider myself a consistent journaler because I've done so for 20-plus years. Now we have these 30-day challenges where you have to turn up every day, but it doesn't matter to me. I know I can always go back. So I just let it be. 

I heard a phrase, and I can't remember the author, but it goes something like, "We write to taste life twice." But in order to do that, you have to live it to be able to reflect on it.

A couple of summers ago, I started giving my summers themes. Last year's was a summer of silence because I sensed there would be a lot of change, and there was. The year before that was a summer of fun. I didn't want to process or reflect; I wanted to be in company, I wanted to go places, I wanted to go on road trips. I randomly bought a secondhand 10-year-old convertible because… I don't know what that was about, but anyway, I went on road trips with my friend, and we put the roof down and sang to nineties music. We went to cocktail bars. I knew that was what I needed. 

Coming back to the written word, I never want it to feel like a to-do list thing; I want it to feel like something I want to do. Making it my entire freedom space, I will naturally come back to it. So I let it be, and also I let it look like what it wants to look like. If processing or not processing is journaling or getting into my body or doing other things, I know that everything has its season, and I will come back.

Kat: I love the idea of giving your summers a theme. I want to take that idea! That's such a great idea. Just living life so you can reflect on it and taste it twice. I'll find the writer of that quote and add it to the show notes. 

Hannah, how about yourself? Can you resonate with any of this? Have you ever experienced times in your life where you felt the need to move away a little bit from processing?

Hannah: Yeah, definitely. This is an interesting question to reflect on, ironically! I'm someone who reflects and explores my emotions a lot. I think it’s my personality and it's become more prominent over the last few years as I hit my mid-thirties. I strive to be in alignment with who I am and learn from my feelings and experiences. But it's also important and healthy for me to sometimes just live in the present, as Sasha mentioned, and have fun without analysing or paying too much attention to how I feel. 

Surfing, especially, allows me to do that. I mean, don't get me wrong, sometimes I'm in my head a lot when I'm surfing as well. If I get frustrated with myself or I'm just in a funny mood. But a lot of the time when I go surfing, if I'm able to just be in the water, notice my surroundings, try to catch waves, I'm often with my partner or my friends, shouting them into waves and just having a fun time. Sometimes two hours will go by and I'm really in a bit of a flow state with it, enjoying the feeling of just being and having fun. I might get the same kind of feeling at a festival, just dancing for the whole weekend with my friends, almost forgetting what time of year it is and where I am. You know, that feeling of being in this kind of bubble of time and space allows you to just have fun, which comes back to the idea of play we talked about earlier. 

I might write about those experiences in my journal later, express gratitude for them, or notice what felt good and what I might lean into more in the future. But at the time, I'm very much just in them, enjoying the present moment. In times like that, I don't think about processing or feel the need to, and I think that's really good for me.

Kat: Yeah, it's an important balance, isn't it? Time to reflect and relax, enjoy it. Surfing sounds like the perfect activity for that. Thank you for sharing.

Moving on with this theme, Bhavna, I wonder if you could tell us some signs that a client might experience if they're in therapy and they might be feeling ready to end sessions.

Bhavna: Can I please add to the last question about when you haven't felt the need to process and reflect? We're super mindful about not making it a thing. It's like anything, if we make it into a God, we're obliged to worship it. I love Sasha's idea of just throwing down the hood, going for a drive, having a good sing-along because processing and therapy is very much about dealing with things in bite-sized pieces. You fancy pizza, go and have a pizza. You can't live on pizza 24/7/365 because you will be puking your guts out and you’ll ruin the experience of pizza for yourself. It makes me think of athletes; even they have rest days, otherwise they would shred their muscles.

Something like this, where it is mental Olympics, you need to go with caution. Especially if it's heavy stuff, especially if you are bereaved, for example, and you are having grief therapy and then other stuff comes up slowly and mindfully. 

To your question. Signs of clients when they are ready to leave therapy, that's my favourite part of my work because you will see them almost take flight and get lighter and lighter almost like they're in a hot air balloon and just rising slowly and the sun is coming out. It's very beautiful. There's a sense of joie de vivre. All of a sudden, you can literally see the dark cloud parting, you'll see the light come back in their face. They will feel better. You will hear, "Oh, I met so and so for a coffee, or I went to dinner, or I'm planning to go and meet my friends."

The most frequent one for me is, "I haven't got anything else to say to you," which means our work is so done. And for me, it's always fantastic. So what would you like to do now? Do you want to stop today or how would you like to go forward? "Well, I'm not 100% sure. Can I book a session in a couple of weeks just to check in just in case anything else comes up?" Absolutely. And they know that they can come back as and when they want because this is a process. Five months down the line, something else may come up that you might need to work on. Clients looking happier, more relaxed, lighter, laughing more, joking more, which I love. And you'll find people starting to wear brighter colours, going back, doing things they used to love, which is a really powerful thing.

And they just feel okay with life. It doesn't feel overwhelming or frightening or insurmountable. They feel okay because they've done the work, gained insight, understanding, and tools. I share a lot of homework with my clients, with their permission, so they can do stuff between sessions, getting the most out of our work together and their investment in their well-being. I'm not one of those people who nods at the right places and is all twin-set and pearls, I'm very dynamic in the way I work because it's in collaboration with my client and in service of them.

Kat: I love that. I think there are some lovely signs people can look out for if you're going to therapy and realising, "I haven't really got anything else to say anymore, I think I've said everything." That's a great sign to move on. Thank you so much.

Okay, so the last question I always like to ask is what you would say to somebody who is perhaps currently struggling with this idea of processing and any words of wisdom you would have for someone in that spot. So Hannah, I'm going to come to you first on this.

Hannah: Sure. I’m going to say something about processing and noticing positive emotions here. I would like to suggest gratitude journaling. It's a term and concept that's been thrown around a lot lately, especially in the last couple of years. It's a simple concept to understand, but it can be really transformative. And for that reason, it’s one of my favourite types of journaling. 

Gratitude journaling isn't just fluff. There are a lot of studies to show it reduces anxiety and stress, increases happiness and life satisfaction, and even helps with sleep and physical health, boosting immune systems. I always recommend it to people looking to start journaling. And it improves the practice. The more you notice gratitude for things, however small, the more you notice what you have to be grateful for which is a bit of a cliche, but it’s true. It’s powerful stuff. 

I want to say here as well that gratitude journaling, or any type of journaling that focuses on positive emotion isn't about ignoring difficult emotions or disregarding the rubbish stuff in our lives. It's about creating a more balanced mindset. Sometimes that's just what we need. So, gratitude journaling, even if it's just one or two things you're grateful for, is a great way to connect with yourself and feel all the good feelings.

Kat: Thank you. That's such a nice and simple way to get started. It's something we can all do and benefit from. Sasha, what would you say to somebody struggling with the idea of processing, not knowing where to start? What advice would you give them?

Sasha: I would echo Bhavna in saying, don't make it a thing and, if you want to, try to build a habit by attaching it to something you already do. There have been times when I would have five or six little notebooks and, while waiting for the kettle to boil, I'd just see what thoughts came and that was it. And then I’d make my tea and carry on. Or, if you have coffee every morning, before work or make one at home, that could be your journaling time. 

If you don't know where to start, something I always come back to, if I don’t know what to write - I always have words - but if you don't know where to start, you could try what I call anchor prompts, and they’re something you choose for yourself. For me, in the morning, I focus on body, mind, and sleep, as they have the biggest impact on my day. I assess how I slept and if my to-do list is still manageable. 

Another tip for those starting journaling in a notebook is to begin with a big scribble on the front page. It's a message to my former perfectionist self that the message is in the mess. It’s already messed up now, so can we get on with it? I remember being a school kid who would start with perfect handwriting on the first page and didn’t want to make any mistakes. It’s a big finger up to that version of me, I mean I guess you served me in some ways, but yeah. Let's just get started. Let's just get stuck in.

Kat: Love that. I think it's a great way to start a journal. I do the same now after you shared that. That's a great idea. Great tip. 

Bhavna, is there anything you would want to say to somebody who might be struggling right now with this idea of processing and not sure where to start?

Bhavna: Absolutely. The word processing is frightening because it means more work. If you are already burdened, it means making more effort, right? So make time for yourself. Look at your schedule. Are you at work 24/7? Pull back, make time for yourself. Like Sasha said, make a cup of tea, sit down, be still, be in the moment. Talk to friends and family. Get out and chat with them. If you trust them and feel safe, share that you are not feeling 100%. Talk to your GP if this has lasted for maybe two to four weeks or more. Get yourself checked out because, especially for women, we fluctuate in hormones month to month as it is, but as we get older, we've got the whole menopause business and other stuff. So get yourself checked out, it's nothing more sinister. 

If you're feeling desperate, speak to the Samaritans at 116 123, put that on a post-it note, stick it in your wallet or handbag. They're available 24/7, and it's okay to call them and have a chat. Nobody's there to judge you. Find a good therapist. People are comfortable spending money on shoes or a bag but struggle to spend money on their mental health and wellbeing, which is the greatest investment they'll make in their lives. Instead of thinking about it as spending money, think about it as investing in your future, blessing your future self by sorting the stuff out so that you can let your inner child run around and be free again.

So you can channel all of that creativity they bring. 

Regarding finding a therapist, check Counselling Directory, BACP, interview people. We serve you, we're here to serve you as our clients. We have the experience, we may have the expertise, but you are the expert on your life. We're here to serve you with respect. I don't see myself as an expert with my clients. They're the expert on their lived experience. They've lived their life, not me. So the biggest thing is to make time.

Kat: Thank you. Incredible ideas there for people to take away. I'll link Samaritans in the show notes just in case anybody’s not aware of them. A huge thank you to everybody. This has been enlightening. I've taken away so much myself, and I'm sure listeners will too. 

For listeners who want to connect with any of you online, Sasha, where can people find you?

Sasha: Sure. Typically you can find me being a very slow writer on Substack and my Substack is ‘in my journal lately’ and I'm occasionally on Instagram as well under the handle @inmyjournallately

Kat: Perfect. Thank you so much. And Hannah, yourself? 

Hannah: Sure, so I am on Instagram quite a bit @Journal.forJoy. I also have a website, journalforjoy.co.uk, where I share information about workshops, both in-person in Cornwall and online. I also have my Hometown journal, which is my book. And that’s, as I said at the beginning, all about inspiring you to kind of get more from the place that you live. So it's quite a niche sort of theme for a journal, but it's a new way to explore journaling if you want to give it a go. And yeah, that's on my website too. 

Kat: I really love the sound of that. And again, we'll definitely pop links to everything in the show notes as well. 

And Bhavna, finally yourself, if anybody wants to connect with you and learn more about your work, where can they find you? 

Bhavna: So I am on LinkedIn, Bhavna the Mindset Coach, and also my website, justbeyourself.co.uk. I'm also on Instagram and I can never remember my tag there. 

Kat: We'll find it and we'll put it in the show notes! Thank you again so much. And for anyone listening, if you are interested in exploring the idea of therapy and speaking to a professional, you can learn more at counselling-directory.org uk and we'll be back next week with our exhale episode on processing. So we're going to be going a bit deeper into this theme, but until then, please do take care. 

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