01 Oct How to Journal Properly
The heading here is a bit misleading because, in truth, there is no one right way to journal. The beauty of therapeutic journaling is that you can use it in many ways. It’s something I prescribe to many of my clients as part of their therapy and recovery. It is also a powerful tool for unlocking creativity, and the ritual of making time to journal can reap huge rewards in your life.
Here are the reasons why you should be journalling:
- Journaling helps with anxiety. It can help you get spiralling thoughts out onto the page where you can see patterns, solutions or are just able to dismiss them.
- It helps with sleep and depression. Your mind works overtime whilst you’re asleep, using REM sleep to help dissipate any unresolved worries or emotions from the previous day. Too many of these and you will wake up tired, or ealy, or both, as your REM sleep just can’t cope. Getting those thoughts out helps you consciously process them, rather than leaving them all to be dealt with in your sleep. Waking up tired and unmotivated is one of the stages of the depression cycle, so journalling is actively helping you step out of that cycle.
- You build the habit of working on your worries. Putting things down on paper may help you see solutions you just can’t when everything is in your head. Also, you’ll inevitably get bored of wriring about the same topics every day and you’ll force yourself to do something about them
- It is especially good if you are suffering from brain fog, like many of my menopausal or long-Covid clients. Journaling helps them get their head in order, they say.
- If you fancy yourself as creative, getting everything out of your head (a brain dump!), can help make way for something more creative to start happening. In this way it’s a perfect tool to help you out of writer’s block.
- Finally, it can help you perform better in your work, as this study explains.
How to Journal Properly
Step One: decide on when
Writer Julia Cameron calls journalling Morning Pages, suggesting that mornings are a good time to do this. It can be easier to build a twenty minute habit at the beginning of the day rather than the end when it is easier to let it slip. The truth is, you need to do it when it suits you. I probably have one or two longer journalling sessions each week, often at a local coffee shop, and I talk about how helpful it is here. Some of my clients like to do it after work to “close down the work files.” Others can literally only find time on a Saturday morning when they have dropped the kids off at football. Work out what will work for you and commit to it.
Step two: decide on how
I like writing in a notebook, partly because I like notebooks. Some of my clients prefer to type their journal on their laptop and a small number talk into their phones and record their sessions. Physically writing is good as there is something about that eye to hand coordination which adds a cathartic quality. However, once do what suits you, and you know you will be able to keep to.
Step three: write
That’s it, just write. Whatever comes into your mind. At the beginning you might find yourself reviewing your to-do list, or a conversation with a friend. Soon, however, you’ll dig deeper and you’ll be surprised what comes out. Don’t edit yourself or worry about spelling, grammar or handwriting. This is just for you and you can dispose of or delete it afterwards if you wish.
Step four: give yourself a limit
Know exactly how much you need to write before you start. You can set a certain amount of time (ten minutes) or a certain number of pages. This is where you will build the discipline to make this a habit. Of course, you can go over if you’re in the middle of wrestling with a weighty problem. This is a tool that you may find yourself wanting to use more than you imagined!