When I was clearing out my childhood bedroom a few months ago, I found my teenage diary. I spent a few hours sitting and reading it; recalling embarrassing moments at school, remembering all my cringey crushes and reflecting on all the memories in there. As I was reading, I noticed that some of my diary was actually quite profound. I didn’t just talk about things that happened during the day, but things I was thinking about, how I felt and behaviours I used.
Many of us probably kept a journal or diary of some kind when we were younger, but I wonder, how many of us do it as adults? I recently started journaling again, and I have to say, I’ve found it to be such a helpful experience. My journal helps me to process what I’m feeling and thinking when everything feels chaotic, it helps me to gain an insight into how I respond to difficult situations, and writing everything down on paper feels cathartic. Just like when I was a teenager, journaling often gives me a sense of clarity and understanding. Research also shows that journaling can be helpful. This study suggests that those who journal about their emotions and their thoughts may be able to notice the positive side of stressful situations.
So how can we journal? Well, journaling is a personal experience, we probably all do it differently, so it’s important to find something you’re comfortable with and that you find helpful. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Think about the method you will use. Will you buy a notebook and handwrite? Will you use a phone or computer? Maybe you’ll voice record your journal? I tend to use a combination: if I notice difficult thoughts/feelings when I’m busy during the day I quickly note them down on my phone, then when I have more time later on I write them in my notebook and spend time unpacking them. If you’re reflecting later on, it might also be helpful to ask yourself, “are these thoughts/feelings the same for me now?”
- Think about how frequently you would like to journal. Some people do it every hour, some people do it at the end of the day, others do it at different points throughout the day then maybe spend some time in the evening reflecting. Again, it’s about finding what works for you
- Journaling doesn’t have to take ages. Sometimes I only journal for a few minutes, other days I might spend longer, but it doesn’t have to take hours
- Think about where you’d like to journal. It might be helpful to journal in a place where you feel relaxed and comfortable, and try to find a place where you are unlikely to be disturbed
- Reflect on different situations that happened during the day: what happened? What did you think about that situation? What were you feeling emotionally? Did you notice any changes in your body? Did you use some kind of behaviour in response to that situation, feeling or thought?
- If you notice difficult thoughts, spend some time reflecting on these. Can you find evidence for/against the thought? Is there another way you can think of that situation/can you form an alternative thought?
- Did anything positive happen today? What do you feel grateful for?
Remember that journaling is a personal process and might look different for everyone, so spend some time trying different things and find what works for you. There’s no right or wrong answer, do what feels good and go with the flow!
If you’d like to learn more about journaling, we talk about it in our free Managing Difficult Thoughts and Breaking Free from Fear workshops. You can find dates/times for our upcoming online workshops here: http://www.valleyssteps.org/online-sessions/
This helpful page from Psychology Today also talks about 8 different ways you can journal: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/202001/discover-8-journaling-techniques-better-mental-health
By Bethan Jones
Course Wellbeing Practitioner