Journaling the Worries Away
When you hear the word journal, you probably think about the diary you had as a teenager. You know, the one you hid under your mattress, confessing all of your angsty thoughts and feelings about school drama. A place where you could write whatever you wanted with no fear or judgement; just pure honesty pouring out onto the page. Then it became uncool, so you stopped. Or you forgot about it and stopped. Well, now it's time you start again.
Journaling isn't dissimilar to a teenage diary; it just tends to be a bit more structured. But, equally, it doesn't have to be! "The journaling method you choose can depend on your needs at the time, and your personality". It's not as complicated as it sounds, I promise.
Journaling helps you deal with "overwhelming emotion" by giving you a "healthy way to express yourself". It can help you "manage anxiety, reduce stress, [and] cope with depression". But how can writing something down possibly have such an impact?
At its core, journaling takes all of your pent up emotion and offloads it elsewhere. It's a way to cope with the weight of emotion. Sometimes, it's hard to express or articulate how you're feeling; we've all been there. One of the best parts of having a journal is that it's yours. Nobody else has to understand what you're trying to say. So long as you allow yourself to be vulnerable and honest, writing in a journal can help you make sense of the jumble inside your head.
- Decreases the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions.
- Improves cognitive functioning
- Strengthens the immune system
- Counteracts the negative effects of stress"
- "Allows you to know yourself better.
- Clarifies your thoughts and feelings." 
As well as the above, keeping a journal provides you with a means to track your mental state. Writing about how you're feeling and what you did on those days can help you find patterns in your mental health, as well as identifying potential triggers. And, "when current circumstances appear insurmountable, you will be able to look back on previous dilemmas that you have since resolved".
There's no right or wrong when it comes to journaling. All you really need is a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. But, if you want to, you could buy a 'proper' journal. I like a dot-grid journal; to me, it's less distracting than lines and less daunting than a blank page. You could also buy journals with prompts already in them, like 'one line a day' books. Regardless, dedicate something to journal in/on. Here are some things to keep in mind when you start:
- Write often: Make it easy, and you'll stick to it. Don't pressure yourself to write every day, aim for ten minutes every couple of days and build up gradually.
- Remember, nobody ever has to read it: Write whatever you feel needs to come out.
- Use an app: Journaling doesn’t need to be in a physical diary or journal", download a journal app instead - it's great for when you're on the go!
- Plan: Like many things, some kind-of routine will make journaling more effective. Try to journal before bed, so you know that's your 'journal time'. Or, try it when you wake up. Whatever suits you best.
- Keep it close by: Most of us are working from home at the moment, so keep your journal by your desk. If it's next to you, you'll be more compelled to write in it. 
- Turn to your journal in times of need: Yes, having a routine with journaling is fantastic. But emotions peak and dip at different points every day. If you've had a heated argument over the phone, or feel stressed about the work call, write about it in your journal. Get those negative feelings out of your head and on to paper - you'll feel better for it.
Things to Remember
Keep in mind that journaling is only "one aspect of a healthy lifestyle for better managing stress, anxiety, and mental health conditions". Journaling works best when paired with:
- A healthy, balanced diet
- Regular exercise, including a ten-minute walk
- Decent sleeping habits
Check out our previous articles on tips for the latter two.
Journaling is by no means an overnight fix, though you may notice a feeling of relief after you first write something down.
Make sure you consider the following:
- It will only work if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and honest.
- The aim is to provide yourself with a release, not to have the most beautiful journal around. Try not to obsess over neatness, and just let yourself write.
- If writing isn't your thing, jot down a few key points and doodle around them to express your feelings.
- It doesn't have to all be negative. My personal favourite part of my journal is the 'gratitude log'. There are a few different ways to do this: daily, weekly, or monthly. Basically, each day, week, or month, write down the things you're grateful for. It could be anything from a promotion at work, to having access to a nice warm shower. Literally, anything that makes you feel happy or grateful, write it down. Practising gratitude boosts your morale, relieves stress and gives you something lovely to look back on if you feel stressed in the future.
If you've read up to this point and still feel a bit stuck, that's okay! It will feel a bit daunting at first. As well as being a bit of a brain dump, it can be helpful to have a prompt to inspire your journal entry each day/week. So, we've made a list of prompts to get you started:
- 10 things I'm grateful for today
- What's delighted or inspired you today?
- Reasons I'm proud of myself
- What's holding me back?
- Where is home?
- What I'm still learning
- Sober thoughts
- Am I sleeping well?
- An olive branch
- Apologies owed
- Looking forward
Take the prompts and run with whatever comes to mind. As soon as pen hits paper, let your mind take over.
- https://www.facebook.com/verywell. Is Journaling an Effective Stress Management Tool? [Internet]. Verywell Mind. 2019.
- University of Rochester. Journaling for Mental Health - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. www.urmc.rochester.edu.
- Axelrod J. The Health Benefits of Journaling [Internet]. Psych Central. 2016 [cited 2021 Jan 29].
- how to start a journal [Internet]. headspace.org.au. [cited 2021 Jan 29].