My attempts at journaling started in eighth grade. We used these exercise books that we would cover the front with doddles of flowers and hearts and fill the pages with poems, song lyrics and fun nonsense.
Then, there was the time I kept a diary with a cartoon cat on the cover and a mini lock and key that I hid in my sock drawer. Throughout the years, there were pages in various notebooks, but the habit of journaling never quite stuck.
The fear of journaling
After reflecting on this, I think there were main reasons I was unsuccess at journaling. First, was the idea that journaling requires you to confront your deepest, darkest fears and worries by putting them down on paper and making them real. Since I often took an ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach when dealing with my deepest fears and anxieties journaling just wasn’t going to work for me.
And second, was fear that if I died and a family member finds and reads my journal and learns my most private of feelings. Seriously, that would just be mortifying, if I weren’t already dead, I’d probably die from the embarrassment!
The trouble was that I put journaling into a box of “shoulds”. For me, ‘proper’ journaling was supposed to be deeply emotional experience, like an intense therapy session but instead of a therapist you poured your heart out, sharing the messiness and sometimes painful parts of your experiences into a beautiful leather-bound notebook using a sparkly gold pen (because some bling helps getting in touch with unpleasant feelings and experiences a little less painful). I was hung up on made up rules that I used to avoid what I felt was a challenging mental and emotional undertaking.
Journaling as part of a healthier lifestyle
In truth, such a narrowly defined concept of journaling left no room for me to see journaling for what it could be, that is, an effective wellness tool that is incredibly beneficial to helping you live a healthier lifestyle.
With the global pandemic requiring many of us to shelter at home for months, bringing with it a seemingly perpetual state of anxiety, fear, worry and sadness, journaling can be a powerful coping tool. There are studies that explore the benefits of consistent journaling and the positive impacts it can have on your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Depending on the type of journaling some benefits include: boosting your mood, reducing stress, improving memory and speeding up recovery after an injury.
Types of Journaling
When it comes to journaling there are so many different kinds. There’s the expressive writing type of journaling for mental health that I mentioned earlier that involves writing about your thoughts and feelings about challenging events for 20 to 30 minutes several days each week.
There’s gratitude journaling which also has health benefits, Bullet Journaling, dot journaling, prayer journals, dream journals and other types of journaling to suit any interests. Take your pick or create your own type.
Think of journaling as one way to free-up mental space, decluttering any unhelpful thoughts and emotions by getting them down on paper and making sense of them, and decrease anxiety.
Journaling can be a way to express your creativity or a way to help you pause for a few minutes each day to reflect on, and be grateful for, the good things, no matter how small, that happened throughout the day.
If you’ve been thinking about journaling but didn’t know how to start here are some practical journaling tips to get your motivated.
5 Tips to Help You Start Journaling
1. Start with why you want to journal
How you journal will largely depend on why you want to journal in the first place. Are you wanting to deal with past difficult events, get your life more organized, stir creativity, find more gratitude or maybe you want to engage in deeper spiritual or religious reflection?
Finding out why you want to journal will help you gain clarity in how you want to approach the practice in terms of focus, commitment and consistency.
2. Select a journaling method
Should you use a notebook and pen or an app when journaling? The method is up to you. There have been studies that link the benefits of writing in cursive to brain stimulation and memory.
If you prefer to use tech, there are a host of journaling apps out there for you to choose from.
3. Pick the time and stick to it
When it comes to making journaling a habit what’s important is that you dedicate a time that works best for you and where you have the energy for it. Whether it’s five minutes or 20 minutes in the morning, before bed, on your commute, making it part of your routine will keep you consistent.
If you happen to miss a day or two, that’s ok too. It happens. The blank pages will be there waiting for you, without judgement, when you get back to it.
4. Pick the place
Setting yourself up to have a good journaling experience means making sure you are comfortable and can write uninterrupted for your allotted time.
Dedicate a writing space that invites focus and calm and that is ideal for quiet reflection.
5. When you get stuck, remember your why
It may be challenging at first to make journaling a habit especially if you don’t possess a love for writing, you don’t know what to write about, or life is hectic and it’s hard to find the time to write consistently.
There are no hard and fast rules except to maybe to give yourself grace and remind yourself of your ‘why’. After all, you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to deciding what journaling looks like to you.
So, go ahead and journal in the way that feels good to you. Then, reap the benefits that journaling can bring to your health and wellness.
This post first appeared on The Swell Life Blog – Swell Made Co.