Journaling Is For You, Too
You don’t have to be a writer or a “creative person” to benefit from journaling.
Denisa Bogdan, MSci
I was in the hotel room I was sharing with my sister at the seaside when my phone rang. We had been enjoying holidays there with our mother for a couple of days, and our dad was going to join us after a long week at work.
“You got our laptop on you?” my dad asked conversationally over the phone. I rolled my eyes inwardly, thinking he must be planning on getting some more work done on my laptop when he arrives.
“Yes, dad… You’re in luck. I don’t take my laptop with me, usually.”
“What about your sister, she’s got hers too?”
“Yes… she’s got it, actually.”
A pause on the other end. I was now a little puzzled. “Dad, where are you? Are you on your way?”
“No, chicken, I’m still at home. Something’s come up and I couldn’t leave. Something serious has come up.”
Now we’re talking. My father, a notorious workaholic, being late because something important has come up was hardly unusual. I huffed a long-suffering laugh before saying, “Of course, something always comes up. When do you think you’ll be here?”
“Probably not tonight.” Before I could protest, he carried on. “I’m at home. Our house has been robbed.”
The reason I am able to recall this episode in such detail is because I have made note of it in my journal. Despite the fact that I have just recounted it to you, I did not write this memory in my journal for the purpose of putting it on Medium.
For most of my life, I have kept some sort of journal. I write in my journal not only as a creative exercise but as a way to better myself and my mental state. In this case, briefly journaling about the stressful, shocking experience of being robbed (big time) helped me manage my emotions and move on.
You might be wary of journaling. You might have tried it before, and you did not enjoy the experience.
You might have never given it a go because you thought you didn’t need it or you didn’t have time for it. You might even think you are too old to pick up journaling. I assure you, you are not: Virginia Woolf started keeping her journal at the age of 33 and continued to do so for the rest of her life.
Journaling Makes Managing Your Emotions Easier
In a world obsessed with productivity, online and offline, journaling is about the least productive thing you can do.
YouTube filmmaker Matt D’Avella (known for giving new habits a go and updating his audience on his experience and results) tried journaling and confessed he struggled to keep up the habit. However, he says he found journaling useful at a point where he was experiencing anxiety.
Within the pages of your journal, there are no rules. There’s no one telling you what to do or what to think: you have a space to simply be. A journal is a place for you to moan, lament, rant, shout, whisper, despair, ponder. When you’re fed up with the current page, you turn to the next and start fresh.
You don’t need to do it every day, or to put it on your schedule. Sometimes, journaling can be a note on your phone that you typed up on your commute when you got an interesting thought. Other times, it can be disorganised scribbles on post-its.
And it doesn’t have to be pretty. Or productive. Or instagrammable. Journaling normalises the experience of not capitalising on your every thought and it helps you preserve your sense of self.
It Doesn’t Have to Be a Negative Space
In fact, journaling about positive experiences for 15–20 minutes a day, several times a week, was shown to mitigate mental distress. Researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine reported a study on medical patients with anxiety symptoms.
The participants were asked to complete short journaling tasks online about positive experiences, for a period of twelve weeks. Four weeks into the study, researchers noted a significant improvement in patients’ quality of life, compared to patients who did not journal.
Bear in mind, the cohort was made up of people with chronic illnesses, which were causing them a great deal of anxiety. Furthermore, the positive experiences they were documenting were not exceptional occurrences that felt “journal-worthy” at all.
Simple prompts were used by researchers to help them journal, such as “What did someone else do for you?” or “What are you thankful for?”. In day to day life, it’s the small things that count.
Journaling can help you create the mental space that you want to be in. As demonstrated by science, it does not have to take longer than 15 minutes at a time. You can use it to work through difficult moments while remembering that a few words about the good, as well as the bad, can be helpful.
Apart from my dad breaking the news about the robbery, I wrote about the relief and thankfulness I felt that he was safe. I noted how fortunate I was to be with my mother and sister so that we could support one another.
And of course, I noted how bloody lucky I was for deciding to take my laptop with me on a holiday where I knew I was not going to touch it.
Don’t Buy a Notebook Just Yet
Get started on journaling today. Yes, you. By that I mean start writing a little bit about what has been on your mind lately. By no means should you go and buy a shiny new journal, though. At least not yet. It’s the one way to guarantee you will never journal again.
White pages can be very intimidating. If you are comfortable writing on your phone or laptop, start there. Otherwise, find a little scrap of stationery and use that.
Write up a few words with today’s date in the text and see what happens. No matter where you are, get into the habit of making note of your mood and your thoughts. Gradually, you’ll see an improvement in the quality and helpfulness of your notes and then you can start collecting them into a notebook.
If you have never tried documenting your feelings and experiences, I encourage you to click out of this article and start now. Even if you have nothing to say, a few words can go a long way.
Don’t force yourself to keep your journal pretty or on schedule. As is my philosophy about many things, from the way I use my electronics to how I practice mindfulness, make it work for you, not the other way around. Once you find out what works for you, journaling can be the perfect way to give yourself the peace and care that you deserve.
Denisa Bogdan, MSci