Journal Your Way to Wellness: Six steps toward more effective journaling
I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.
Writing is a very intimate relationship between person and paper. As I reflect on my own writing, I can pinpoint the times when I broke myself out of a cycle of negative thinking that I couldn’t break myself out of by talking...or yelling. One night I was arguing with my husband...well I was arguing with myself and he was there to listen and try to calm my hysterical butt down...I was throwing a fit about how I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my career and financially. We live in a one bedroom with our son, and I expected to have a two bedroom apartment by the time he was one year old; he’s almost two years old now and we’re still here. My husband has a good sense of “this is our current situation, this isn’t forever” while I have a good sense of “I want everything right now and waiting another year (or heck, another day!) feels like an eternity and a failure on my part since I set a goal for myself.”
I do an amazing job of beating myself up and throwing one heck of a pity party. I’ve been working on a book about my experience as a mom. I’ve been working on it for over a year and a half. I’m well beyond the ridiculous deadline I set for myself. Long story short, there is a chapter in my book about finances. After this “argument” with my husband, the self doubt hit me like a ton of bricks. I asked myself, “how can I write a chapter about financial health if I’m not meeting my financial goals?” and “how can I write a book about being a mom if I’m not reaching my parenting goals?”
As I laid in bed, wallowing in self pity, I couldn’t sleep...so I wrote. I dove back into that chapter about finances. After I wrote down these 2 terrible things about myself, I reflected on them, then reframed them like this:
Negative Thought: “How can I write a chapter about financial health if I’m not meeting my financial goals?”
Reflection: Sis, you are thriving. You live in NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the country AND in one of the top ranked neighborhoods. Your measly one bedroom apartment costs more than most people’s 2-3 bedroom apartments who live in places with a lower cost of living. Your son is well taken care of, your bills are paid, you all are good! Your husband is months away from completing his PhD. You may not have the disposable income that you want right now because he’s still in school...but you’re good. All of you are good, because you’re good. You’re good at budgeting and planning and you are worthy of sharing these gems with others.
Negative Thought: “How can I write a book about being a mom if I’m not reaching my parenting goals?”
Reflection: Having an another bedroom is not a parenting goal, it’s a financial one. Your child is smart, healthy, and hilarious. He takes swimming lessons, music classes, and is regularly at the zoo, museums, and aquariums soaking up information. He’s well dressed, well fed, well travelled, and well taken care of. In fact, he’s so rotten that if you paid for a second bedroom, he’d still end up climbing into your bed every night like he does now. You’re killing it right now, and this situation is only temporary…but don’t tell your husband he was right.
By the time I was done writing, my pity party was over and I found myself at the lit after party where I tooted my own horn (toot tooooot) and patted myself on the back because I’m dope. Writing and reflection can help us change our perspective all while being cathartic. You may not be interested in writing a book, but you can still write about your everyday experiences and unpack all the feels via journaling. When adults think about journaling, we think back to: cute diaries where we wrote about the boy/girl we liked, describing friend drama, and scribbled our name with the last name of the person we were sure we would marry (I knew I was going to be Mrs. Sammie Leigh Bush one day). We’d then lock it up and hide it from our parents and siblings. They were inevitably found and exploited at some point. This type of writing is still healthy. Some refer to it as a “brain dump” and it can be helpful, however, if you’re looking to elevate your journaling experience to increase your wellness and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, you have to step it up a notch. Here is how:
Write in a quiet space that is free from distractions. When you’re not in that private space, make it easy to journal by keeping a pen and paper handy at all times. When all else fails, use the notepad on your phone or try a free journaling app, like penzu. I typically resort to my phone when I need to write at night without turning on the lights.
Write consistently. Aim for once a day. Set aside a few minutes every day to write. Put a reminder in your phone! If you’re just starting off, aim for 5-15 minutes and set an alarm to keep you on target so you can avoid watching the clock. If you’re not new to this or you want a challenge, try setting aside an hour.
Keep your journal private; it’s for your eyes only—not your spouse, family, friends, or therapist (although you can discuss your experience with your therapist). By keeping it private, you can be authentic; There’s no need to try to “look good” on the page.
If you’re writing to overcome trauma, don’t feel obligated to write about a specific traumatic event—journal about what feels right in the moment.
Make time to balance yourself and reflect after writing. Take a few moments to be still, calm your breath, and focus. A little mindfulness or meditation could help in this step. If mindfulness and meditation is new to you, there are a lot of apps (many of which are free) that you can use to get your feet wet.
Revisit your writing every once in a while. Perhaps once a month, revisit previous entries and reflect further. Touch base with what you’ve written to see if your mind has changed or processed the situation differently. You may find that you’ve covered the same issue over and over again when looking back on earlier entries. These could be negative thoughts, behaviors, people, or events that trigger you. It’s not healthy to ruminate. By honing in on the problem, you have an opportunity to make positive changes. If you need more help processing, it could be beneficial to see a therapist.
Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter. And lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.
- Jack London
Consistency is the most difficult step to follow. I have tons of beautiful journals that are half empty and often filled with to-do lists instead of personal thoughts. If coming up with something to write about everyday seems daunting or you’ve tried it and found yourself staring at a blank page like me, a guided journal could be the push you need to write consistently. Guided journaling uses prompts to set a path for personal revelation. Prompts help get the writing going when inspiration is hard to come by.
We’ve created a guided journal for this very reason. With “Prompts & Lists & Doodles, Oh My!” you can answer thought provoking questions, write lists, and even draw based on the prompts we provide. Our journal includes 90 days of material to get you started. When it comes to guided journaling, you follow the same aforementioned ruleset, but you reflect a bit differently.
One way to reflect is to answer each prompt twice. First, use your stream of consciousness, without censoring yourself. Second, try it again with more thought and deliberation. Do you see a difference between the two answers? Is your subconscious telling you something your conscious mind doesn’t want to hear? Another way to reflect is to ask “why” and keep asking “why” until you feel satisfied with the answer. There are some prompts that might give the impression that a simple yes/no answers is sufficient, but you always want to ask “why?” instead of passively answering prompts with a few words.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
- Maya Angelou
Journaling can bring us relief, but real results happen when you pair it with a healthy lifestyle to better manage stress, anxiety, and mental health conditions. Take a look at our blog about the eight dimensions of wellness if you’re not sure what a healthy lifestyle entails. I hope you walk away from this post with a better understanding of how to journal for wellness and you have a plan in place for how you’ll get started. Prompted? Unprompted? Journaling app? Just write!
By: Shannon Green
Founder & CEO, Welstand Boutique