When I published ‘Anita’s Diary’ a year ago, it sparked new conversations about journaling. One of my favourite things about Anita's story is that she used her diary to do precisely what journaling is meant to accomplish. She created an intentional space to record her feelings and work through experiences, emotions and thought patterns in a way that felt right for her. There are numerous benefits to doing this. This article from Psych Central highlights a few research studies demonstrating the significant mental health benefits of journaling.
While writing is the standard way to journal, it is essential to recognize that writing may not work for everyone. Pictorials, word art, audio, video, or other forms of recording experiences and emotions are also helpful. But writing has a kind of power that we would do well to pay attention to. This article from Forbes, for example, highlights the benefits of writing on paper with a pen. It cites studies about how handwriting creates neural connections and facilitates stress-relieving patterns similar to those seen in the brains of people who practice meditation. There is also a mythical, artistic, and philosophical element to writing, as this post from TenMillionBaskets.com cheekily points out.
All these things make handwriting a journal a cathartic and rejuvenating experience that can help you improve your sense of well-being. If you are thinking about taking up journaling as a mental health recovery tool, or if you have been journaling for a while and are feeling stuck or bored, here are six ways you can ignite your journaling practice to support your mental and emotional health.
# 1. Let go. Let go of any expectation that there is a wrong or right way to journal. Journaling is a process, and there is no one size fits all application. Your journaling should work for you, your mood, and your expression. If you like to draw and doodle, do that. If you want to write, do that. If you don’t mind listening to yourself or seeing yourself on a video, record your thoughts that way. The important thing is that you start recording your thoughts and observations, recognizing that the way you record may change from time to time.
This blank-page journal lets you engage in journal writing, doodling, and listing all in one place, so you can try different ways to record and reflect on an experience, thought, or emotion.
# 2. Be basic. I mentioned the Firefly Journal, but your journal does not have to be a fancy store-bought book with JOURNAL printed. You can use a dollar store notepad, an exercise book, or a sticky note. You can also use your phone’s camera or voice note app. Your journal can be a safe online space where you share your ideas regularly. The only rule is that you should be able to go back and view, listen to, or read what you recorded whenever you are ready.
# 3. Think small. If you are new to journaling or are feeling stuck with your practice, ask yourself if you are trying to do too much too soon. You want to take care not to become overwhelmed by the project of recording your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Start by choosing a topic or behaviour pattern that is not your most difficult or emotionally charged. Begin by taking note of what you are observing or feeling, then take a break and do the reflection at another time.
# 4. Take the time to learn. Given the personal and private nature of journaling, it’s easy to assume that it’s something anyone can do. But journaling – mainly if it is intended to be used as a means of recovering or sustaining good mental health – is a skill that takes time to cultivate. Journaling workshops can teach you how to get the most out of your journaling practice, and it is helpful to have some guidance and support so that you can journal without becoming overwhelmed by the experience of paying attention to your emotions and feelings.
You can try a free workshop offered through bodies like the Canadian Mental Health Association or invest in courses and workshop experiences that provide a personalized approach, with one-on-one and small group interactions and continuous support.
# 5. Be consistent, but don’t become rigid. Consistency is the result of practice, and whether that practice is done once a day, once a week, or bi-weekly, any pattern of practice will help a process stick. But rigidity can set in if we allow the procedure to become more important than the purpose. Remember that journaling aims to create an intentional space for reflecting and processing thoughts, feelings, and emotions. There is no perfect way or the perfect time to do this. Intuition and intention are your best guides as you aim for consistency in your journaling.
# 6. Don’t do it alone. Support is a crucial element in journaling success. Without support, journaling can prove to be a lonely and isolating activity. You definitely should carve out quiet time for journaling but be careful that you don’t fall into the routine of journaling to avoid human contact or that you do it only when there isn’t something more fun or interactive to do. A journal buddy, journal group, or other support systems can help you develop consistency while making the practice fun and helpful instead of lonely and burdensome.
In our monthly Journal Together community sessions, members reflect on a journal prompt together; they record their private thoughts and determine what and how much they wish to share. You can also find journaling support by doing a workshop or joining a safe in-person or online community. Our private online community allows members to build connections with other people while co-learning, sharing perspectives, and doing activities and challenges that support their mental wellness and well-being.
The bottom line:
Journaling is about your intuition, your intentions, and your own needs. It is a process that requires a commitment, not to the journal but to yourself. Whether you are brand new to journaling or have years of practice, the message is the same: do what feels best for you, do it consistently, and get support. What you journal about is always private and personal, but no rule says you have to journal alone.