“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” ― Christina Baldwin
I’ve kept a regular journal since I was twelve years old and I can say, hand on heart, that it’s saved my sanity over the years. My notebooks have certainly been filled with moments of heartbreak, but they’ve also helped me to heal.
Writing about my experiences, thoughts and feelings has given me a great deal of self-awareness, which has undoubtedly helped my mental and physical health. It’s helped me see my destructive patterns of behavior, such as people pleasing in my relationships, and helped me to change those patterns. Journaling has also increased my general happiness and my creativity, and improved my relationships with other people. For these reasons, I intend to always keep a journal; I can’t imagine my life without my notebooks.
To see for yourself the healing powers of journaling, try this exercise:
Sit down somewhere quiet and think about something in the recent past that upset you. It could be an argument, a rude client or stranger, or something you read in the news. Whatever it is, focus on how you felt; relive the experience as much as possible.
How did it make you feel? It’s very likely you felt upset and angry all over again.
Now write (with pen and paper) about that recent event. Write about how you felt at the time, but also include what you wish you’d done or said. Vent any anger or tears if you need to do so, then write down what you learned from the situation.
Put all your thoughts down on paper and write until you can’t write anymore, and then assess how you feel. You probably feel a little lighter and better.
I still use this exercise regularly and it works well for me every time because I always feel lighter in the heart and clearer in my mind when I’ve written down what’s bothering or worrying me.
Writing untangles my thoughts and enables me to put the event, my reaction to it and my emotions into perspective. It’s like a weight is lifted off my shoulders, and I feel I can move on.
Quite simply, journaling is good therapy – and no one else needs to know you keep a journal.
The number one rule of journaling
The first and possibly only rule of keeping a journal is: Keep it for your eyes only.
Absolute privacy is a must, because you need to see your journal as a safe, private space just for you and your thoughts. There should be no self-censure, no holding back and definitely no input from anyone else. It is strictly your “territory”.
It is best not to tell anyone else you keep a journal, and to keep it in a safe place. I once made the mistake of revealing to a boyfriend that I kept a journal and his curiosity to read it ate away at our relationship and eventually broke us up. He couldn’t understand or respect that it was my private space.
Pen and paper is best
I personally prefer to use a pen and notebook for my journal. I believe it’s more therapeutic to write using a pen on paper than using a computer.
There’s an emotional connection when you write by hand such as your unique handwriting and the small nuances that are often lost when you write digitally. It feels far more personal.
You also don’t have the distractions that often plague us when using a computer or tablet, so you can concentrate fully on what you’re writing down. (If you prefer to keep your diary on your computer, make sure the file is private – consider protecting it with a password if you use a shared computer.)
It’s also been proven that writing by hand trains your brain in terms of memory, thinking processes, language and coordination.
Essential “Me Time”
We often associate our computers with work, so writing in a notebook journal is a perfect opportunity to take time out, slow down and reflect on your day without lots of distractions.
Writing in itself can become a form of relaxation, meditation, essential “Me Time”, and it gives you the space to process the day’s events, thoughts and feelings.
As I mentioned before, it’s like having a therapy session and a mental massage. It’s a great way to release stress. I often look forward to curling up on the sofa with my notebook and writing about whatever I want. It gives me the freedom to explore my feelings, ideas, doodle drawings or write poetry.
A safe place to rant
Writing down our bad times and frustrations is a good way to release a lot of negativity in a safe environment – negative emotions that might otherwise haunt you for hours, days, weeks or even months.
Your journal is where you can call your boss every name under the sun or complain about your neighbors. It’s your secret place to deal with the negative thoughts and feelings that you associate with certain experiences or people.
So, after a bad day at work, you rant in your journal rather than rant at your nearest and dearest. You vent those pent-up emotions on paper instead of taking them out on your loved ones.
If it’s your loved ones’ actions that are causing you to rant, I recommend you try the exercise mentioned at the beginning of this post – write down your feelings about the situation and then raise the matter when your anger has subsided and you feel more objective.
We simply don’t think straight when we’re angry, and often say and do things we later regret. Vent your emotions in your journal first and then speak to them when you are calmer.
In time, you’ll find you’ll become more in tune with your emotions and better recognize your trigger points. You’re likely to become more understanding of your loved ones too because you’ll reflect on their feelings and actions in your journal, as well as your own.
A way to deal with the past and future
Keeping a journal is an effective way to cope with future worries and handle past regrets.
We are often emotionally “stuck” when it comes to past and imagined future events. Worrying is a way of trying to deal with the unpredictable future and many of our worries are never warranted, but that doesn’t stop them from making us feel unhappy.
Writing down your worries is a great way to focus your thoughts and analyze exactly what it is that you fear, worry about, want to improve or achieve, and so on. Writing captures your thoughts on paper, containing them in a much more digestible way. When we worry, our thoughts tend to snowball and overwhelm us. Writing them down helps you to control your thoughts, not the other way round.
We all know the past cannot be changed, but we can instead change our perspective of it, detach from it, and let it go. Journaling can also bring new insights about old events. It can help you find the silver lining, be more positive, and appreciate what you learned as a result.
The past is a great teacher and a major benefit of journaling on a regular basis is that you can record your progress and growth over time. Journaling gives you a greater level of self-understanding and self-compassion. And it can help you better remember precious moments too.
A journal is your confidante
You certainly don’t need to keep a journal religiously, writing in it every day, although it can definitely become a habit once you start. Instead, look on your journal as a means of talking through problems, ideas, hopes, anxieties, and fears without saying anything aloud. It can be your confidante, a non-judgmental “listener”.
Your journal is your private space where you can safely air your thoughts and feelings. If journaling ever becomes a chore then you simply need to stop writing until you feel the need to start again. Journaling should be something you find beneficial; it should never feel like another task to add to your to-do list.
I don’t write in my journal every day and if I’m busy I might not write for a week or two at a time. However, I usually come back to my journal because I feel the need to write and it’s like returning to a dear old friend.
It encourages an attitude of gratitude
We often overlook the many gifts we have, or don’t feel thankful for the things and people that enrich our lives.
When you start to write about what you are grateful for, you’ll find that the list is far longer than you ever imagined. You’ll realize your life is overflowing with abundance and contains many blessings.
When we focus on gratitude in our journals, we feel happier, more content, and also more inspired and compassionate. It’s the perfect way to shift a bad mood, or disperse feelings of scarcity or fear.
Gratitude encourages a positive mindset, and a positive mindset tends to encourage more positivity in your life in general. It’s not about wearing rose-tinted glasses, but a genuine appreciation of how good life can be.
A journal is your friend in uncertain times
We live in what often feels like increasingly uncertain times, which is why now is the perfect time to start your journal.
Writing regularly in a journal is a great way to help us cope with what’s going on in our lives and it also helps us to become more self-empowered and work out what we want from life. Your journal is a friend who is always there for you no matter what. It will never judge you or turn its back on you.
All you need is a pen and a notebook and a little time now and again to experience simple but life-changing self-therapy.
KJ Hutchings is a fiction and self-help writer and artist. Visit her site kjhutchings.com to get 25% off any artwork in her online shop, free fiction and regular updates. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez.