“In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”
—Franz Kafka, The Diaries 1910-1923
Why Keep a Journal?
Journaling is something I’ve often used with clients and have found to be beneficial for my own mental health journey. It’s been a great way to look back and see the progress (or lack of) that I’ve experienced over the years. It’s provided me with some healthy insights and has proven to be a great stress reliever.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling offers many positive benefits and can help:
Cope with depression
Journaling helps control your symptoms and improve your mood by:
Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them
Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors
Journaling is Therapeutic
In my journey with Bipolar Disorder, I’ve found journaling to be very therapeutic and a way to positively release negative and, oftentimes, overwhelming emotions.
It’s a way to get out some of the junk that goes on in your head and see, on paper (or screen), what is worth attending to and what is just useless chatter in a noisy and overactive mind.
Recently, I’ve been working through some unresolved grief issues and have been using journaling as a way to help me process what has been difficult to say. What’s been interesting in this process is taking time to revisit past journal entries around the time of the loss of my loved one and seeing the immense change in my attitude, mood, mindsets, and grieving process. I’ve been able to revisit this time in my life and see how far I’ve come and where I still have work to do.
What’s been interesting in this process is taking time to revisit past journal entries around the time of the loss of my loved one and seeing the immense change in my attitude, mood, mindsets, and grieving process. I’ve been able to revisit this time in my life and see how far I’ve come and where I still have work to do.
It’s been a good way to remind myself that I have made progress because, to be honest, my mind will often tell me that I’m not making progress and journaling has helped me make a shift in my attitude because I can revisit the past and literally see the change in my thinking and life circumstances.
If you struggle with seeing how you’ve changed or made progress in your life, journaling is a great way to keep track because it allows you to look back and gain perspective.
Gain Perspective Through Looking Back at Past Entries
I found myself complaining about my job this week. I won’t bore you with the details because we’ve all been there and had a time or two when our work has become burdensome and frustrating. It was one of those moments for me. Shortly after a venting session to a relative, I opened my journal to a random page in 2014 where I wrote: “I’m so scared right now because I don’t even have a job or know where my next meal is going to come from.” This brief visit to my past reminded me of two simple truths:
- It could always be worse
- I’ve gone through worse and have survived
Journaling can provide insight and reminders about things you’ve been through and conquered. As my pastor likes to say, “The worst thing is never the last thing” and this is a good way to remind yourself of how you’ve grown and changed through the tough times.
We all go through moments in our lives where we experience tough times but it’s these difficult moments that have so much to offer us and teach us if we are willing to look for them. Journaling is a great way to unpack the mess in those troubling times and help us find the strength and wisdom for any future stress we may encounter.
Journaling is a great way to unpack the mess in those troubling times and help us find the strength and wisdom for any future stress we may encounter.
As Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” so I encourage you to take a moment and examine your life and circumstances in a safe space. There’s no safer place than a blank screen (or if you prefer, a sheet of paper).
There’s no safer place than a blank screen (or if you prefer, a sheet of paper).
What Should I Write About?
Journaling is for you and you alone.
You can share it with others, but it’s best to write for an audience of one because it helps you get rid of the impostor or false self that we all put on when we’re performing or creating for others.
The one exception, I would say, to sharing your entries is if you’re encouraged to journal by your therapist. This can be beneficial in the therapeutic process and open more doors to walk through with your therapist or doctor.
To get started, you can use prompts such as these suggested by the American Psychiatric Association:
- What was the biggest challenge I faced today?
- Did I feel anxious, frustrated or angry today?
- Did I have a positive interaction with another person today?
- Did I have a negative interaction with another person today?
- Is there a decision I’m trying to make today?
- Was there something or someone what made me laugh today?
- I am most worried about…..
- I am grateful for…..
- I am disappointed about…
Or, as fellow Psychcentral.com blogger, Maud Purcell advises in her post “The Health Benefits of Journaling”:
Write quickly, as this frees your brain from “shoulds” and other blocks to successful journaling. If it helps, pick a theme for the day, week or month (for example, peace of mind, confusion, change or anger). The most important rule of all is that there are no rules.”
As Maud said, “There are no rules.”
This the most important thing to remember.
There is no right or wrong way to journal.
How Much Should I Write?
For me, it’s been beneficial to set an incredibly small goal, one that is so ridiculous that I can’t help but meet it such as 50 words a day. Author Stephen Guise suggests this “mini goal” in his best-selling book Mini Habits. The goal is so small and attainable that you can’t fail to meet it unless you just don’t try.
But whatever you decide on, it’s important to choose a way that is tailored to you, for you and has your best interest at heart.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to journal.
So whether you write in a journal, on paper, the net, in a word document, or choose another method, write in a way that gives you privacy and helps you find meaning in your story.
Through journaling, you will find meaning and gain insight by getting to know yourself better and be empowered with the wisdom that can only be gained through taking time to get to know the expert on your life–YOU!
Be well and happy journaling!