Journaling. It always seemed like a good idea. I knew other people who journaled. I had heard how great it was – mental clarity, writing down your thoughts, noticing patterns… I always wanted to be a person who journaled. I could see myself in the warmer months, on the beach, under a tree, writing away. Or in the winter, curled up under a cozy blanket, mug of tea beside me, chronicling my thoughts.
Apparently other people saw me as a person who journaled too. I have received numerous journals as gifts over the years. I would take this as a sign or inspiration. I’d use my nicest pen, write a few entries and then… the journal would remain largely unused. A few pages at the beginning, something I’d pick up for list making or some other task from time to time, but not a part of my daily life. Journaling always felt like a task or obligation. It was never something I looked forward to.
In my younger years, I would sometimes write a journal on trips or family vacations. And, just as I would in my adult life, I would occasionally try to “make myself a journaler” and keep it up for a few days. But journaling was never a regular part of my life. If anyone asked, I told them I was a “binge journaler,” meaning that I would pick it up and be gung ho for a short period, but leave it untouched for long stretches at a time.
But this past spring, all of that changed. For going on three months, journaling has become an almost daily habit. It’s something I look forward to, something I need. After a missed day, I’m eager to sit down and catch up.
What exactly did happen? What changed? Well, a couple things. This urge to journaling started at a really rough time for me. I was going through a pretty tough episode of depression. Near the end of April, I was sitting in a church group meeting, and hearing about the need to journal; then reflect back, listen and look for patterns. Now this person wasn’t talking to me personally. He wasn’t even talking about journaling for the reasons I needed to. But all the same, hewastalking to me, even if neither he nor I knew it at the time.
Long story short, at the end of that day, I went home and later that day I just felt I needed to write in my journal. I can’t describe it, and I probably couldn’t even have told you why at the time, I just felt it was something I had to do. Weirder still (at least for a lifelong binge journaler like me) it was something I wantedto do.
And so I wrote. And the next day I wrote again. It seemed effortless. Every day I sat down and had more to say. At the end of a week, I was impressed with my streak. After two weeks? More impressed. And after a month, I thought “hmm, this might just be a thing.”
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as journaling became a regular practice, I noticed a marked increase in my mental health. Now, I am not at all saying it is 100% because of journaling. I’ll be the first to tell you that there were multiple other factors (and that’s another story for another day). But I also don’t want to discount the positive effect that regular journaling can have on your mental health.
From my experience, there’s something important to remember, no matter where you are in your journaling journey: no rules. Write what you want. Don’t give yourself a set length or format. Don’t beat yourself up if some days the entries are short or you feel uninspired, with nothing to say (trust me, that WILL happen). Some days, my writing is not much more than a recount of the previous day. Sometimes it’s reflections from things I’m reading. Other days it’s connections I’ve made, or thoughts I’ve had based on conversations with friends, family or therapists. Sometimes I use writing prompts from books I’m reading. Sometimes I’ll write point-form lists.
My point? Anything goes. If you don’t limit yourself, you have less reason not to write. Without rules or set boundaries, you are free to write what you’re feeling (or not). You’re free to be 100% honest (and that includes days when you are frustrated out of your mind and would rather not be journaling). Write it down. Talk about it.
Speaking of not wanting to journal, my next piece of advice? Make like Nike and just do it. As much as I would, in general say I’ve had this desire and need to journal, I will admit that it’s not like that every day. Some days I feel grumpy, down and uninspired. I don’t have much to say at all. But I still write. It might just be a simple “this happened today” or “this sucks and here’s why,” but I still show up and do it. Like anything else, the practice of journaling, if you do it enough, can become a habit. But it will only become habitual if you keep practicing – aka write every day.
Really, as much as I enjoy writing this blog, I’m surprised it took me so long to come around to the idea of journaling. After all, I’ve said before that writing here is free therapy – journaling is much the same. It can be clarifying to see my thoughts and feelings written out in front of me. And it’s really cool to go back and reflect on where I’ve come from, and to notice any patterns that have stuck out. The added benefit that journaling has over blogging is that no one else will ever see it – so it’s totally unfiltered, no holds barred, putting it all out there.
You might choose to journal electronically, but for me, I love the act of doing it by hand. Blame it on my lifelong love of cursive writing (shoutout to Mrs. Butler, my grade three teacher). There’s just something soothing and meditative about putting pen to paper and writing. And the fact that it takes longer than typing means more to time to think.
There are a lot of positive steps you can take to improve your mental health. Some of them, unfortunately, are hard to access and not readily available to many. But if you have a pen and a notebook, you can journal. It might take time. It might take effort. But my hope is that your experience will be like mine – the outcome is so positive, before long it won’t seem like worth. And after all, in the end – aren’t you worth it?