Writing in a journal is a popular recommendation for ameliorating anxiety—and with good reason. I’ve kept a journal since I was four, and I can say that journaling has helped calm certain day-to-day and existential stresses. Journaling through the years has given me a complex joy that reaches beyond stress management (not to undervalue this element!). Here are a few reasons why keeping a journal has been so important in my life:
Stress management. To elaborate on the above, journaling provides a safe space to express my worries. Whether I’m anxious about money, relationships, or who-am-I-really (?!?!), journaling about it helps me feel grounded—even if I haven’t arrived at the perfect solution to a given problem. Acknowledging my stress in writing has an immediate soothing effect.
Gratitude. Expressing joy in journaling is the counterpart of expressing stress. In fact, focusing on someone or something beautiful elevates my mood. If a topic is too stressful to write about at the moment, simply articulating what you’re thankful for on a given day may help you reach a more positive state of mind. Objects of gratitude don’t have to be “big;” often, I make a list of all the smaller things that made an impact on my day, such as, the smell of the air when I walked outside this morning, holding a cup of coffee between my cold hands… The more I practice gratitude like this, the more I notice everyday beauty. I believe these moments are just as important as our heavier priorities, such as school and work (which often cause the most stress).
Inspiration. My journal serves many purposes—including serving as an inspiration receptacle! I collect magazine clippings, poems, song lyrics and excerpts from novels in my journals. You could perhaps describe this as another form of practicing gratitude since I am making space for something that nourishes my creative, beauty-seeking spirit. I love looking at journals I kept in high school to reconnect with what moved me at a certain point in my life.
Art. For the past six years, I’ve included art in my journals—small watercolors, drawings, artistic lettering, and collage. As I writer, I delight in the expressive force of language, but I also understand that many things are beyond words. Combining my written entries with images and different textures makes journal pages all the more unique.
Reflection. There are many forms of journal entries. Sometimes I simply write in a list, other times I explore a feeling I’m having, often without necessarily situating myself in a time and place, or I may record an event. In this last form, retelling our lives allows us to live them a second time. As part of this second layer of experience, we can reflect on the significance of certain details and how they related to what we were feeling. For example, I recently wrote about visiting some childhood friends and wishing simply to lie in the grass and feel as if the grass was my own skin. Two years later, I will remember visiting my friends, but I may not remember this detail until I go back and read this entry.
Freedom. If I had to say one rule I follow about journaling, it’s allowing myself to express freely. This means turning off the internal editor—I don’t worry about spelling or grammar when I write in my journal. I also try not to censor my thoughts. Not everything in my journal is coherent. Sometimes I write in fragments and jump from topic to topic. Sometimes I write things I wish I didn’t feel, but I believe it’s more important to be honest with myself. The beauty of a journal is it can be completely private. Sometimes it’s fun to share portions of my journals with other people, but this is optional. Another aspect of journal freedom includes letting go of any pressure to record absolutely everything. Your journal does not have to be a detailed autobiography (although it can!). Mine certainly isn’t! Worrying about playing catch-up with the events of your life can make journaling seem tedious and decrease the chances that you’ll actually do it. Instead, focus on what’s most interesting to you, and let the rest go.
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Photos: Mary Hood