Journaling is a regularly suggested activity in my office. I’m often met with similar variations of the same question.
“How is that supposed to help me?”
I get it. You have visions of a butterfly laden journal filled with your deepest secrets about your dreamy crush and declarations that you will be BFFs FOREVER.
Toss that perception out the window. Close the window.
Journaling is a transformative tool, for numerous reasons. It can aid in the processing of difficult feelings or memories, give you a physical space to vent when a friend or loved one isn’t available, provide you a time to practice self care, and even aid in sleep hygiene. Evidence based research supports journaling as highly beneficial for our well being.
The basis of journaling is within the concept of containment. If your therapist ever alludes to “putting it in a box,” this is what they mean. It can be helpful to put our thoughts in a container so they aren’t bouncing around while we attempt to go about the rest of our day. When intrusive or recurring thoughts keep popping up it can be highly distressing to experience. I conceptualize this as your brain saying “Hey! This is important! Don’t forget this!” Writing that important thought down signals your to your brain “Okay, I’ve heard you.”
An important component of journaling (or any coping skill, for that matter) is to understand what it can achieve for you, and what it cannot. The goal here is not to get rid of our unsavory feelings all together. Feelings are meant to be felt. It is to give you a healthy space to experience those feelings and make peace with them.
A common barrier many encounter and I myself have voiced in the past is the inability to “keep up with it.” My illusions of perfectionism were shattered when I learned that keeping up is NOT a requisite for journaling. It is not a failure when you pass over a day, or are too defeated to process a thought. We are all only human. It is always a win to choose to journal, no matter what the passage of time between entries may be.
With this knowledge, the next time you feel overwhelmed, confused, angry, hopeless, or any emotional experience at all, I urge you to grab a piece of paper and go. Structure your entry or let it be a free flow of consciousness. There is no wrong way to do it. If you need help getting started, there are countless prompts you can find online, or journals that have their own prompts for purchase.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” -Ernest Hemingway