Talk it Out: Why you should try a gratitude journal in the face of a crisis

To help readers cope with their corona anxieties, The Times of India has launched Talk it Out, a series under which our panel of expert counsellors will answer your mental health queries. This week’s advice comes from clinical psychologist Dr Prerna Kohli

My father died when I was 9. Since then, I’ve been staying at my uncle’s house where only male members of the family are deemed important. I am barely noticed. During the lockdown, I watched Harry Potter and now I am obsessed with running away.

— Aditi

I would encourage you to watch movies that fuel your learning and knowledge for creativity and growth. Running away from home is not a solution; it may land you in a more serious situation, including child trafficking. Given your circumstances, I would encourage you to look up to a role model such as mother, aunt, grandmother, neighbour, or teacher who can guide you and also navigate the emotions you are feeling. I suggest you appreciate the protection and stability provided by your uncle’s family. What looks like a problem today can be turned into a project for future success and happiness. I strongly encourage you to excel in your education. It is the greatest enabler.

I am a middle-aged married woman with two kids in a long-distance relationship with a married man. We don’t get enough time with each other during this crisis. Moreover, his day-to-day family matters bother me. I am so attached that I feel insecure about little things, though I understand the limitations of such a relationship. What should I do?
— JA

To put this relationship in perspective, please ask yourself these questions: does your husband and family know and approve of your relationship? Would it cause you shame if it became public? If you have answered ‘yes’ to these questions, then this relationship is not healthy. You need to introspect why you aren’t getting the emotional support and satisfaction from your husband. Consult an experienced marriage counsellor who will help you understand your state of mind so that you can take steps to lead a more fulfilling life.

I am an English honours graduate preparing for the civil services exam. My family is so strict that I have been forced to cut off ties with my friends. My dad often talks about marrying me off as I can’t do anything fruitful. I feel my life has no meaning and nobody wants me.

Congratulations on successfully completing your degree. It is unfortunate that your parents are conservative and don’t allow you to have any friends. Have you confided in your mother and asked her why your father is so strict with you? Do you have an elder sibling to confide in? Is there any other family or grandparents with whom you can temporarily live? To overcome your trauma, I recommend that you start writing two journals. The first is a gratitude journal. Daily before going to sleep, write down three things that you were grateful for. The second journal is to document your feelings so that you can release your emotions instead of keeping them bottled inside. The third thing that you need to do is repeat these affirmations at least three times a day: I acknowledge my own self-worth; my self-confidence is rising; I am worthy of all the good things that happen in my life; I am confident with my life plan and the way things are going; I deserve the love I am given; I let go off the negative feelings about myself and accept all that is good.

I am in Class XII and studies have become a burden. Please help me stay focused as this is a critical year.
— Anjali

There is no need to become anxious. Follow these tips that I applied as a student. Monitor your diet, eat healthy. Do not delay your meals. Sleep seven to eight hours daily and avoid watching stimulating videos before going to sleep. A good night’s sleep ensures better memory, learning, retention, and recall. Do strength-building exercises like weightlifting, yoga and jogging four to five times a week. This will help release hormones like dopamine which are known to reduce anxiety and stress. Make your tasks measurable and repeatable. For every 45 minutes of study, reward yourself with 15 minutes of entertainment.

I am appearing for IPCC for the fourth time and have also joined MCom. I feel I’ve wasted five years of my life after school, adding no skills, only taking exams.
— Tamojit Sengupta

No learning is ever wasted. Your five years haven’t been lost, you have equipped yourself with the skills and knowledge to be successful in life. After MCom, you will be an expert in accounting and will be able to manage your finances. We are all going through unique circumstances due to the pandemic. Have faith. Focus on what you have control over. Meditate twice daily for 20 minutes.

My exams were postponed due to lockdown. I have seen a rapid decline in my productivity. Before going to bed, I’d make plans for my next day: studying at least two subjects, reading the newspaper for at least an hour then reading some books for motivation, and also prepare for my upcoming Air Force SSB. But when I wake up and try to accomplish all these tasks, I’m able to only achieve 30-40% of these. Above all, I play online games for 1-2 hours every day. This frustrates me. What should I do to achieve my goals?
-Rajan Singh

Dear Rajan, to recognise that you have a problem and to seek help for your problem is half the battle won. The global pandemic has been unprecedented, and none of us have seen anything similar to this in our lifetime. This is not the time to be harsh with yourself or to pull yourself down.
To address your question, you need to do the following. First, monitor your diet and eat healthy, nutritious food such as green vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Most importantly eat at the same time daily. Second, you must sleep 7-8 hours daily and go to sleep at the same time each night. Don’t watch any stimulating videos, games or TV shows before going to sleep. Third, exercise at least 4 to 5 times a week. This will help regulate the anxiety and stress hormones in your body.
In addition, make a list of the activities that you plan to do the next day. Instead of saying you will study two subjects tomorrow, note down the exact chapters you will read. Make your tasks measurable and repeatable. Once you have completed the task feel happy to strike them off your to-do list, and reward yourself with playing your favorite video games. I recommend that for every 45 minutes of study, reward yourself with 15 minutes of “entertainment”. You should maintain this ratio.

During this pandemic, I am going through a bad phase. I don’t trust anyone. I also like someone but I can’t trust him now. Due to all this, we have stopped talking to each other. I feel unwanted and negative. I want to think positive but I am unable to. What should I do? Please give me advice.
– Anonymous

Dear anonymous, I am sorry to hear that you are facing trust issues. Let me assure you that these aren’t related to the pandemic but due to the pandemic there is a lot of time to think, reflect, and indulge in self-pity. Many of us are facing mental health challenges due to the pandemic. First, to reduce your mental health-related stress and anxiety during the pandemic, follow these steps:

  • Meditate for atleast twice a day for 20-30 minutes in each sitting. This will help calm your mind and give you the ability to see clearly and make better decisions. If you don’t know how to meditate, please reach out to me, so I can point you in the right direction.
  • Exercise 4-5 times a week to release the toxins in your body, and the pent up anxiety and stress.
  • Pray
  • Avoid junk food, eat wholesome home-cooked meals, this will give you energy in combating the current circumstances
  • Have faith. Over the millennia, pandemics have come and gone, the human race continues to survive, economies rebound. This pandemic will be no different.
  • Give yourself a positive pep talk every day.

Trust-related issues are generally due to a break in trust with someone in the past. The problem has manifested itself for you when you have started to distrust your significant other, without a reason. You need to introspect into yourself and see who has broken your trust in the past and why you are projecting that on your partner.
You can also repeat the following affirmations to increase your trust.
I am confident enough not to worry about my relationship
I can forget the past and move on with my life
I am a confident person who can achieve anything
I deserve a happy relationship
My relationship allows me to be happier
I am able to concentrate on the positive aspects of my relationship
I find it easy to trust my partner
I am naturally happy in my relationship
I enjoy being in my relationship
Sharing can help your recovery so write to us at with your question, name and place. But if you wish to stay anonymous, do indicate that in your email.

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