Tag Archives: journaling

an empty wooden bench looking out across sea and sand

Journaling: could it work for you?

You might have heard that journaling is a good idea and that it can help support good mental health, and this sounds like something you would like to do. Maybe you have friends who say they journal, and who encourage you to do it, but you aren’t sure what ‘it’ is. Perhaps you kept a diary as a child or young person – is that what journaling is? Like a lot of things, journaling is something that can feel a bit mysterious, and possibly a bit exclusive. Unless you already journal, how do you find out what it is and how to do it? How do you know if you are doing it right?

First of all, journaling is a few things in one place: you, something to write with and on, and some time. The permutations within this set are almost endless – are you on the bus, in bed, at the table, in the bathroom, in your workplace, is it in the morning, or is it last thing at night? Have you got an hour or have you got five minutes? Are you using a lovely new notebook, your laptop, the back of a scrap of paper, an app on your phone,  or your actual diary?

For some of us, we can take what we’ve got, in terms of time space and materials, and just get started. This might mean we start just writing about the day, perhaps we start by describing the events and then are able to move on to writing about our feelings about the events and maybe segue into other feelings or events we are reminded of. Before we know it, time has passed, words have appeared from out of the ends of our fingers and perhaps we have explored something unexpected, perhaps we have a feeling of relief at getting something ‘out’, or another feeling is around, as a result of the writing. We might be able to read back over what we have written – or maybe we can’t, because it’s literally too messy, or we didn’t write actual sentences, or it just doesn’t seem relevant to read it.

Once we’ve had that first experience of journaling, as described above, we can repeat it – the next day maybe. Or next week. Or next time we have a difficult day. As we do it more often, we might expand our writing from specific events to specific people or relationships, we might explore our patterns or delve backwards into our distant pasts, triggering memories we didn’t know we still had. And the writing might be collected in one place – a notebook, a folder, a box, a document, an app. Or each bit of writing might be dumped, because it’s the process not the product that is important to us.

After a few months, we might have turned into one of those people who encourage others to journal – we’ve experienced the benefits of having a place to dump stuff, to explore themes, to express ourselves.

For those of us with perfectionism and anxiety around doing things ‘right’, getting started like this might well be impossible. We might feel like we need to get properly prepared with the right tools, at the right place and time. So for us to get started, we might need a new notebook, and a nice pen. We might want a plan that someone else gives us, (here are some ideas), so that we have enough structure to be able to take the plunge, and start.  What will it be like for you, to start this thing that really doesn’t have a ‘right’ way and really is just for you? For those of us with anxiety around doing it properly, journaling can be really challenging – and it can also be a safe place to explore some of those difficult feelings and restrictions.

Next, a couple of directions you might want to go in, now you’ve read this far and are maybe thinking journaling might be for you!

Firstly, there is now a body of research into gratitude journaling specifically that shows that having a gratitude practice is good for us: this article summarises the research findings. Could your daily journal start with a list of three things you’re grateful for? Doing this regularly will start to retrain your brain – it will want to find things you can add to the list!

Secondly, journaling doesn’t have to be only for the hard times. We are wired to focus on the negative, but with a little help, we can encourage our brains to also pay attention to the positive. Describe a good friend, a lovely day, a great feeling. Give your happy memories an airing!

How does journaling fit in with counselling? It can support your counselling, and expand the learnings you make from your sessions. Themes might appear in your journal that you can bring to your therapist to make more sense of. Your therapist might be a great person to work with those feelings of perfectionism and anxiety, and together you might be able to work out what those feelings are about for you.

If you do start journaling, good luck!