“When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experienced improved health,” Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin. “They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up.”
Believe it or not I am not talking about my blog. For some people writing a blog has become an online method of journaling. But I will be honest my blog does not read like my journal. I think I may be locked in a private room if my journals were made public. But that is exactly their purpose. When I blog I edit. Watch how I say things, typos and misspellings. This is unfortunately often how people commence a trial of the art of journaling. First of all there is no art! If you are going to write so it looks good or reads well or has perfect grammar or has a great moral at the end…the point has been missed.
I have been writing since I was about 12 so when I started trying to journal it was by hand and I would rip out pages where I messed up. Writing a journal was more stress than therapy because I was always trying to be profound or to demonstrate some great insight. People lose sight of the fact that they are only writing for themselves. Your journals only end up read by someone else after you are dead and then you really won’t give a damn. Maybe I should not have said that in case someone starts censoring their writing in case their kids read it. If I could not swear in my journal I would miss a lot of emotional expression.
There is no right or wrong to journaling. There is no necessary content. No rules. If you want to talk about doing the laundry that day cause that is the most you accomplished, fine. If you are in touch with a darkness that has taken over and you want to write about the depth of misery you are in…that is fine to. The goal here is to help you get through and try to sort out the multitude of emotions that we are thrown into during the course of a day. A day can look like a kaleidoscope. Writing thoughts down can help a person make sense of the chaos. Sometimes not. But it is never a waste of time.
If writing is not your thing than maybe drawing. Again you are not trying to prepare for a gallery exhibit. If a bunch of messy jibberish is how you feel then that is your drawing. It is using a more artistic side of you to express yourself. You do not have to be a writer or an artist. It does not even have to make sense to you. Whatever wants to come out…let it. Although I do all my writing on my laptop, journaling is different. I have my specific book and it is hand written. There is something more personal when you are writing by hand. My initial outline for anything I write is always done by hand. Maybe you hate writing. Then use a recorder on your phone or laptop. There is a variety of software out there and mini recorders that allow you to record any time. You do not even have to listen to it again…you got it out and that is what matters.
Some of us do not have a place to vent. We need to dump the frustrations of the day. It is not just people with a mental health issue that can benefit from keeping a journal. Maybe there is a chronic illness. A high stress job. Toddlers that are driving you over the brink. Marriage issues etc… etc… I can say with the utmost of certainty that everybody has something they are dealing with. It is not always easy. Some days I cannot put 2 consecutive thoughts together. I do not have to worry about what someone else would think because it sure as hell would remain a mystery. IT DOES NT MATTER WHAT! And if you think it may be beneficial for others but you would not be good at it…you are dead wrong. Everyone can do it. But first you have to start. It may feel uncomfortable at the beginning but then you will find it is part of your routine.
If you are new to writing a journal a good way to start is by spending 3 minutes in the morning and 3 minutes in the evening writing. Even if it is a few bad jokes you can handle 3 minutes. The reason I say morning and evening is because each has its own goal. The morning to write out what you will do doing the day that will help you to feel better. I do not mean it has to be something big. I always come back to this because they are my nemesis but if getting the dishes done is the only thing you have…good for you! Then the evening is for finding something out of your day to be grateful for. Ya I know, that can be a tough one. If your coffee was good that morning it counts. If you did not run out of toilet paper, it counts. When you make a conscious effort to find something you will be amazed at what you discover.
Keeping a journal helps me keep my sanity. Sometimes I jot something down on a loose leaf just so I can get it down on paper and then I throw it out. There is something therapeutic about taking a thought from the mind and writing it on a piece of paper. Although I said there is no format I am going to provide a sample that could help you get started. A few questions to answer that can get the ball rolling. Sometimes you may write 3 sentences and some days you might write 3 pages. Again, fine. So here is a sample of how to get started:
What’s on my mind right now?
How am I feeling right now?
What is the one thing I can do today for me that will improve my day?
What’s on my mind right now?
How am I feeling right now?
What is the one thing I can be grateful for today?
I am not going to say that journaling is a magic cure all. I have yet to resolve all my problems by writing in my special book. But I have learned a lot. And there are more times than not when I feel a weight lifted after I have shed what I am carrying. The only advice I can give is what do you have to lose? 3 minutes will not break you. And would that not shock the shit out of you if it worked? One thing I have learned when it comes to dealing with making life easier with my illness…unless it is bungee jumping I am willing to give it a try!