Much like cleaning your house Marie Kondo style or gifting your partner a Fitbit for Christmas, getting your nose stuck into a book has gained traction in the wellness world. No, we’re not referring to Waterstones’ latest best-seller, rather a journal, where writers aren’t required to have special skills for others’ enjoyment, but instead, a way of documenting goals, grateful movements and positive thoughts. So far, so good, right? But on days where simply brushing your teeth feels like a win, is journaling something that you should carve out time for? We’ve got the experts on the case.
What are the benefits?
If you’re in search of cheap, effective acts of self-care, then journaling fits the bill pretty perfectly. Not only can it help you to prioritise when your life feels somewhat chaotic, the paper can actually act like your free therapist. “Journaling allows you to clarify what’s going on in your mind and make things seem more logical and easier to understand,” explains Grace McGeehan, a clinical psychologist and Myndup practitioner (myndup.com). “By doing that, it’s going to be easier to overcome some of the challenges and issues that you face on a day-to-day basis.” Another advocate for having a bit of a brain dump is human behaviour expert and breath coach, Nevsah Karamehment (nevsah.co.uk). She says that journaling is a great way to ease anxiety, lower stress and give your happiness a lift. “Nowadays, many people are aware of the importance of mindfulness and yet there are still very few people who put this into practice. Once you start writing, you begin to clarify your mindset, understand yourself more clearly and recognise your problems or triggers. And with this new-found understanding, you can learn to control and manage your mindset.”
Why do some people avoid journaling?
Have you ever ruminated about something for a while and it’s all felt a bit heavy? When you’re hyper-focused on the problem at hand, you might think that journaling is a bit counterintuitive, but that’s when getting your notepad and pen out is the most beneficial, says clinical psychologist Dr Marsha Chinichian (mindshine.app). “Many people don’t realise how much impact expressive writing can have and feel as though they have enough selfawareness based on their accomplishments or the people around them. Journaling is a powerful activity, which is why some people may avoid it because it gives you the chance for a bit of reflection and confrontation.” Plus, journaling is a pretty private activity and means that you’re not turning to a friend or colleague for some trusted advice like you normally would, making you want to shy away from doing it. “The fear of journaling – and what it might bring up – often prevents people from practicing it; the irony is for those people, a daily journaling practice would probably be the most beneficial,” adds Nevsah.
Is journaling just for hard times?
Spoiler: you won’t be able to master the crow pose after just one session of yoga and the same goes for journaling – you have to practice something over and over for it to really have an impact. On the flip side, Grace says that you don’t need to feel the pressure to stick to journaling every day, but also don’t expect to see results when you do it as a one-off. “If you can, you should try not to get to a stage where you think, ‘I’ve got a problem and let‘s do something about it now’. However, it‘s never too late to start and if things start to get a little bit rough, journaling is a great way to express your emotions.” Whether you’ve got a fitness goal in mind or are simply trying to be more organised, Nevsah believes that journaling can in fact be applied to all aspects of your life. “Your choices, projects, actions – whether it’s to do with fitness, diet or setting goals – all start with a thought. Journaling is a great practice to help you become more aware of your thoughts and choices, which ultimately lead you to governing your whole life.”
What should I write in my journal?
There are so many thoughts swimming around your head sometimes, but when it comes to writing those down, they can suddenly make themselves scarce and leave you staring at a blank page.
Rest-assured that “you’re not writing an essay here and nobody is going to read it,” states Marsha. “The secret to good journaling is to let the words flow without doing too much agonising or perfecting about how you’re writing. Just start and don’t stop until you have filled the allotted time – you’ll be surprised by what ends up coming out.” If you consider yourself more of an artiste, the traditional form of journaling might not suit you, so you could try drawing to express how you’re feeling, Grace suggests. “If you need prompts to get you started, why not start off with what you have planned for the day, how you’re feeling emotionally, or what you are hoping to achieve with your day? Then go from there.” Don’t get us wrong, there are instances where journaling may not be the best practice for an individual (“if you find yourself wallowing in negative thoughts, living too much in your head, becoming blameful or a passive observer in your life rather than taking action and responsibility, then I would advise you get some professional guidance,” says Nevsah), there aren’t many downsides to journaling and it scores pretty highly for general wellbeing.
Seeing elements in your life that you’re grateful for or want to change might seem a bit more real in black and white, but if it’s something that could unravel some of your stress and help you think a bit clearer, why not give it a shot? The key is to make it simple and you may even find that the words just flow.
Not sure where to start? Try Grace’s prompts to give you an idea
“Take some time to think about the past and how you’ve got to where you are now; your journey up to the present moment and everything you’ve achieved that you’re grateful for. Then, have a reflection on the present moment and think about the things you’re cultivating day-to-day and how you feel about them. A daily review practice might look something like this:
• What did I do today that I can do differently tomorrow?
• How can I be a better human tomorrow?
• When was I short with my partner, and can I try to react to them in a bit of a calmer way tomorrow?
• Did I beat myself up because I didn’t manage to fit in that exercise?
• How can I give myself more kindness and compassion tomorrow?
“The most important thing is to have fun with it. Once you get to grips with your practice, it’s more of a ritual, rather than just something that you’re doing because you’ve been told that it’s good for your mental health.”