There are many reasons to keep a journal. Like a diary, it can mark time and allow one to keep track of daily life and major events, it can also help mine creativity, and it can help relieve stress. Stress? I don’t think anyone would argue that our pandemic-driven world has been tough on so many fronts: economic, social and emotional.
Where to begin
A good friend of mine starts a new journal at the beginning of every year and is able to reference just about every happening in her life by year and date—and her impressions of events at the time. Her library now devotes a full bookcase to her well-organized tomes, which, she says, help her to better understand and organize her life.
A journal can also help us delve deeper into our creativity by exposing the corners of our brains, according to CM Hamilton in his book Writing Meditations: 36 Prompts to Inspire Meditative Writing.
“Scientists like Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, politicians like Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill, artists like Leonardo Da Vinci and Ernest Hemingway, and historical figures like Marcus Aurelius and Abraham Lincoln all spent considerable time writing to no one but themselves. They understood that the deliberate practice of writing had significant benefits to their creativity, self-awareness, memory, productivity and wellbeing.”
A journal can lessen anxiety by helping us understand thoughts and feelings more clearly, while prioritizing problems in the process. Once stressors are identified, it’s easier to develop a plan of action. Hamilton says that writing sessions of as little as 15 to 20 minutes on five or less occasions, can help people deal with traumatic events.
This year has been a challenge, and journaling has come to the rescue. Chris Sullivan, president of Fahrney’s Pens in Washington, D. C., says, “We saw a lot more journals going out the door [this year].”
And this trend transcends age.
“We’ve seen the younger generation getting into journaling where they can get creative,” he explains. “Colorful ink is still going gangbusters, and there are many more choices of journals—colors and sizes and types.”
Some are used for writing and others for drawing, as in the case of dotted journals. Both activities have been shown to promote self care.
But if you need a little extra support, there are guided journals to assist in the process. Sylvia Catching’s 52-Week Mental Health Journal, for example, promises “calm and resiliency, connection and engagement, goals and purpose, and healthy living―so you can thrive in every area of your life.”
The book includes effective prompts designed to reduce stress, increase connection to others and find deeper meaning in life. Its methods are derived from research-supported techniques, and inspiring quotes from philosophers, artists and writers are sprinkled throughout the pages.
In my opinion, the best journal to relieve anxiety and stress is one that uses “life” as a prompt, comprising blank paper and plenty of pages. Simply identify a troublesome thought and sit with it for a few minutes, allowing any specific emotions to rise up. Then write whatever comes to mind.
This stream-of-consciouness writing is used by authors, artists and everyday “journalers” to track down the psyche and get to know the character—in this case, you—in a new and compassionate way.