To the casual outsider Gemma Heaton appeared to have everything. A beautiful home, a loving husband, two gorgeous children and a great career.
But beneath the smile she put on for others lay a woman who was plagued with anxiety.
After almost losing her life during childbirth and supporting her mother through cancer, Mrs Heaton, 34, a make-up artist, suffered from panic attacks, sleepless nights and a pounding heartbeat.
But her life changed around when she began keeping a private ‘gratitude’ diary – and stumbled on a way she believes can help everyone to ‘reset’ their lives and increase their happiness levels.
Gemma Heaton, pictured with children Summer, nine, and Ari, six, suffered from panic attacks, sleepless nights and a pounding heartbeat, but overcame her anxiety through writing a journal
Mrs Heaton, a make-up artist, lives with property developer husband, Adam, 33, and their children, pictured together. She praised diaries even though they have ‘gone out of fashion’
Mrs Heaton who lives with her property developer husband, Adam, 33, children Summer, nine, and Ari, six, in Wigan, says: ‘Writing a personal diary seems to have gone out of fashion. These days we are more likely to write a public blog on Facebook.
‘But I believe the key to happiness is writing down what makes you happy and what you have to be grateful for. It can be as simple as appreciating you had a lovely breakfast or that your children gave you a sleepy hug in the morning.
‘Too many of us allow daily worries and bad things that happen to overwhelm us. We are our own biggest critics. But when we constantly put ourselves down saying we’re fat, ugly, I can’t do that, good things don’t happen to me, we are actually attracting those things to ourselves.
‘Gratitude journaling daily is one of the most powerful practices you can do to really change the way you think about life. You can even be grateful for the things that you haven’t yet received safe in the knowledge that one day they will come.’
Gemma explains writing a daily gratitude journal is the key to ‘resetting’ happiness levels
Mrs Heaton was plagued by anxiety after nearly dying in childbirth and supporting her mother, pictured, through cancer
Mrs Heaton did not want to see a therapist or take medication to help her anxiety so turned to self-help books before discovering the power of writing a gratitude journal
Mrs Heaton’s own spiral into a ‘dark place’ began at the birth of her son.
She says: ‘Because at 9Ib 14oz Ari was a big baby, I had a C-section. But on the operating table I haemorrhaged and had a heart attack. Fortunately Ari and I both pulled through. Yet even when I physically recovered, I struggled to feel truly happy. My mum, now thankfully fine, got breast cancer. Then I used to read the news and feel consumed with worry about finances and the world in general.
‘I was lost. Rather than enjoy life, I was plagued with anxiety and felt like everything was crumbling around me. My heart would pound out of my chest. My palms sweaty, I suffered with panic attacks. I was snappy and I didn’t sleep. All the time I masked it with a smile telling the world I was OK. But I wasn’t really living. I was just existing, trying to keep my head above water, all the time feeling like I was drowning.’
Mrs Heaton didn’t want to take anti depressants or see a therapist. So she tried self-help books. She says: ‘These helped to a degree – because I learned that focusing on what was happy with her life, rather than the negatives, would help.’
Mrs Heaton, pictured with her husband, put on a brave face while battling with her anxiety
The mother-of-two discovered journaling after keeping a diary to analyse why she was unhappy. Pictured, Gemma with her husband and their children
But it wasn’t until she decided to keep a diary to analyse why she was so unhappy that she managed to pull herself out of the dark hole she was in. ‘I needed to actively do something to change my life.’
She has now devised her own book. Called Reset The Happiness Project, it explains how anyone can reset their minds to step off the roundabout of life and find happiness.
She says: ‘My reset diary has different sections. At the start I kept a picture to reinforce your reason for striving in your life. Self-affirmations are important. Telling yourself you are strong, you are a loving person doing your best, and you are beautiful – liking yourself for who you are – is important.
‘Then going back to basics our grandparents realised were important – “counting your blessings” – and actually writing them down privately because this is a diary for you only and not a blog for others to read.
Gemma said she started by ‘counting her blessings’, which could include small moments like cuddles from her children, pictured
Mrs Heaton also suggests focusing on your dreams and aspirations and making a plan to achieve them
‘You should talk about your dreams and aspirations. It can help to write down step by step how you will achieve them, to formulate a plan. Many successful people don’t take no for an answer – they believe in themselves and attract success.
‘Self-development and identifying happiness triggers are also very important. Identifying what makes you happy – such as favourite books, exercise and even reminding yourself to smile more often because smiling triggers a part of the brain which can actually make you feel happier.’
She adds: ‘At first I found keeping a diary strange but I continued jotting throughout the day and Adam, who quickly saw a change in me, was supportive. Incredibly within a few weeks my mood lifted.
‘Many people suffering from mental health issues end up on medication or are on waiting lists to see therapists. Often they expect someone else can sort their issues for them. However, writing a diary encourages people to understand the answer to many of their problems lies within themselves and it gives them the power to change.
How can you reset your happiness level?
Mother-of-two Gemma Heaton, 34, is founder of Reset The Happiness Project, which explains how anyone can reset their minds to step off the roundabout of life and find happiness.
Here, Gemma shares her top tips for resetting your happiness level…
1. Keep photos in your diary of those people who are close to you. They are your why. Even remembering a close relative who has passed away can strengthen your why and enable you to take comfort in the positives your relationship with them still brings to your life.
2. Write down positive affirmations about yourself. For example if you offer friends and family a good cuppa and a chat, write it down.
3. Hone ambition by creating a vision board. Place photos of your dreams – a home, car, holiday – on your board. Set yourself a goal. From that goal formulate a plan of steps in your diary to reach it. Never restrict yourself by thinking a dream is out of reach or good things only happen to others. Simply writing aspirations down will ensure you have a constant reminder of what you are striving for. Interestingly, many feel-good films begin with a dream, an aspiration or ambition – and follow how the main character achieves his or her desire.
4. Calmly take the time to write down worries. Read them back to yourself. Sometimes this exercise alone is enough to make you realise a worry is not as big as you think it is.
5. Otherwise, dig deep and find positives from the worries and write them down. It might seem impossible but if you look hard enough, there are positives to even the most painful situations in our lives.
6. Read books. Too many of us eschew a good old-fashioned book these days for TV or social media but you can learn so much from the way in which others – such as authors – view the world. Books can also inspire you to rethink how you deal with your own life situations.
7. Plan a weekly schedule to give more time for you. Write it down. Include time for exercise, meditation and seeing friends.
8. Treat your diary as a best friend, a tool to support yourself through whatever ups and downs life throws at you – to remind you of the good in your life, resetting your happiness levels. A good example of this was Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who lived in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She called her diary Kitty and wrote about many of the positives her life in it as if she were writing to a friend
Why keeping a diary good for your mental health – and could even boost your IQ
A growing body of research suggests we could all benefit from keeping a journal or dairy. Studies show that writing about your day brings clarity to your thoughts and can help you solve problems more easily. It is believes writing down our feelings can reduce stress as people become more aware of their mental and emotional state and how to control it. As journaling is an outlets for processing emotions and increases self-awareness, it might also increase your empathy with others and therefore your emotional intelligence.
Researchers at the University of Arizona found keeping a diary after a divorce helped people to move on with their lives. Additionally it helped their physical health too as it resulted in a lower heart-rate.
Indeed when psychologists at the University of California in Los Angeles conducted brain scans on volunteers, they showed putting feelings down on paper reduces activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions.
Dr James Pennebaker, a professor at the Univesity of Texas at Austin, has written several research papers and books on the ways writing can help heal and improve ones mental and physical health. The author of Opening up by Writing it down, says as well as lowering depression and anxiety keeping a diary can strengthen immune cells such as T-lymphocytes.
Research by the University of Lancaster suggests keeping a journal of our experiences can reinforce your memories of them and can even be helpful to keep your brain sharp as you get older. Some research notes people in their 70s and 80s who keep diaries retain higher cognitive recall.
Interestingly many therapists claim keeping an old fashioned diary where you write down your feelings in a book trumps using a computer because it feels ‘more real.’
Meanwhile a report by the University of Victoria found journaling is an exploration of language and is likely to increase your vocabulary and therefore has a ‘positive correlation with intelligence.’
More information visit: www.resetthp.co.uk