If you have been following my blog for a while now, you will have seen from some of my previous posts that I’ve been a fan of journalling for a while now and really enjoy using both my bullet journal (BuJo) for planning and recording and my Traveler’s notebook journals for creative memory keeping. In today’s Monday Matters, I’m going to give a brief introduction to journalling, describe some of the ways it can support your mental health and wellbeing and provide you with some different types of journalling that you might want to try.
What is a journal?
A journal is a safe and private space for you to record your thoughts, feelings and reflections on life. It’s a place where you can write daily or just occasionally, when you feel the urge. You can produce a few short lines or a couple of pages depending on the type of journaling you want to do and what you’d like to get from it. There are no rules to follow and so it is a great way of letting your guard down and expressing yourself in any way you choose. Many people decide to share their journal with others – as you can see on Instagram or Pinterest, but this is completely optional and something you should only do if you feel comfortable or if you find it beneficial in some way.
There are many different kinds of journal that you may want to keep and you can either choose to have several on the go at once or keep it simple with one space to write something each day. There are also lots of dedicated books and booklets available for purchase if you want one with a structured framework in which to write but I personally prefer to create my own using a blank notebook. Here’s a list of some of the most commonly kept journals:
- dream journal – a space to write down what you dream about and then think about what each specific one might mean
- travel journal – a book in which to write about all of the places you’ve been, adventures you’ve had, people you’ve met on your travels, places you want to go in the future etc.
- specific timeframe journal e.g. a record of a holiday, baby’s first year, wedding planning etc
- reading journal – a record of the books read, your rating and your thoughts on them
- garden / nature journal – details about your garden e.g. new plants, plans and layouts, nature spots etc
- gratitude journal – a place to record one or two lines about things you are grateful for or a list of things you are thankful for each day
- progress journal – a place to document your achievements in a particular area of your life e.g. yoga practice, work you’ve done towards your goals etc.
- project journal – if you are working on a particular project, you might record how you are getting on e.g. photos of a house renovation or photos and words relating to decluttering a particular area of your home
- creative journal – a scrapbook / junk journal style where you stick in tickets, receipts, leaflets etc and record your life experiences, adding decorative papers, stickers, stamped images etc
- personal development – a record of how you have grown as a person, for example, a Level 10 life assessment followed by ways in which you have made progress in the different areas in order to work towards a better life
If you keep a bullet journal, you may even decide to create dedicated pages within your monthly spreads. For example, I draw up a 2 lines a day gratitude journal each month which comes after my cover page and monthly calendar.
What are the benefits of keeping a journal for good mental health and wellbeing?
Regular journalling can greatly improve your quality of life and various studies have proven it to be wonderful for your wellbeing due to the positive impacts it has on your physical and mental health. Some of the main benefits include:
Reduction of anxiety, stress and depression Journalling helps in a number of ways. The physical process of writing can be good for calming your mind and soothing your emotions as it is a meditative kind of activity. Writing can also boost your mood and put you in a more positive mindset – gratitude journalling is particularly great for this as it focuses your attention on appreciating the small things in your life that make things better. Getting all of your thoughts and feelings on paper can also help you rationalise and process all of the things that are going on for you at the moment. As you write, you may think of alternative ways of looking at things or find some solutions to your problems. You can even write a love letter to yourself where you identify difficulties that you are currently facing and offer kindness and compassion to yourself.
Improved self awareness Journalling can really help you get to know yourself better. Learning what makes you tick has been shown to help you deal with life’s ups and downs and can make you more much more resilient in the face of difficulties. It can also enable you to spot patterns and recognise any traps you may fall into on a regular basis.
Better cognition Regularly writing in a journal has been shown to boost our cognition. Cognitive skills include attention, memory, organising information, learning and solving problems. Also, if you engage in a reflective style of journalling which helps you process negative emotions and thoughts, you are creating room in your mind to explore your creativity and engage in more positive activities.
Reach your full potential Many people like to keep a journal to establish, track and achieve their short and long term goals and writing things down can be a great way of checking in with yourself to see how you are progressing.
Nightly journaling can provide an opportunity to reflect on how you feel your day has gone, any issues you had and how you dealt with them (whether in a good way or less than helpful way!), what you are looking forward to tomorrow and anything which is worrying you. This can help you make progress in both your personal and professional life and also encourages you to celebrate your achievements no matter how small.
Improved physical health Studies have found that regular journalling can decrease symptoms of long term health conditions such as asthma and arthritis. They also shown that it can boost your immune system, helping to reduce your chance of catching common illnesses such as a cold, and making your body better able to fight off any infections.
Are there any negative aspects to journalling?
For me, there’s just one and this is related to my perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes, I become overly concerned with aspects of writing such as cohesion, penmanship (handwriting, spacing etc), readability etc, which kind of detracts from the thoughts and emotions that I’m trying to get down on paper. Although I’m getting better at embracing the imperfections, this is still very much a work in progress. One way you can combat this is by writing down everything that’s in your head and enjoying the therapeutic effects, then destroying your pages by shredding them or hiding your writing by covering it with papers, thick layers of paint, pretty images etc,
Things to remember when you start journalling – some tips for beginners
No matter what kind of journal or journals you choose to keep, remember that it should be all about improving the quality of your life whether that’s making you more organised, relieving stress, having a creative outlet, recognising your achievements or any other of the wonderful benefits that come with a regular journalling practice. As a beginner, try to think about what you want to get out of keeping a journal. Do you want it to be all about reflection? Do you want it to be a record of your experiences and how you felt about them? Or do you want to focus on being more grateful and appreciative of the things you have in your life? Find your purpose and once you are clear on this, think about how you might present things.
There are many styles of journalling and there are no right and wrong answers. Some people write to just get everything out of their head in order to create some space – a popular method to create ‘morning pages‘ where you do some free writing first thing in the morning and fill a couple of pages without thinking about spelling, punctuation and grammar. However, this in not for everyone and not something I’ve tried. So one of the questions you might ask yourself is, do I want something that I can look back on for years to come or do I just want to focus on actually getting all of my thoughts and feelings out with no regard to what my pages look like as I’m not going to be looking at them again?
Also, when you first start, you might want to experiment in order to find your own journalling style or styles. In doing this, it may be tempting to spend hours perusing the internet looking at the work of others for inspiration and ideas. However, this can cause overwhelm and hightened stress levels before you even get going. Comparing yourself to other journallers can leave you feeling inadequate which is certainly not going to lead to good mental health and wellness! Also, you may be ‘wowed’ by everything you see online and end up buying every supply available – washi tapes, stamps and inks, watercolours, gouache, brush pens, gel pens stickers etc, when really, it’s probably better to start simple and choose a few basic supplies that suit your style e.g. a nice pen and some tape to stick in a few photos and maybe a couple of embellishments until you find what you like.
Of course, if your passion is the act of writing, you might just want to fill your pages with words and add only basic decoration in the form of a border or a cute sticker. Other journallers might prefer to create arty pages, adding decorative elements such as photos, sketches, watercolour, stickers, stamped images and so on, plus a few lines of text. Again, there’s no right or wrong answers – just do what you feel comfortable with.
I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s post and it has whetted your appetite for a little journalling. Maybe you’re completely new to the idea or you’ve tried journalling in the past and would like to give it another go. Remember, start small and above all have fun with it as this is more likely to make it a habit you want to keep. You certainly won’t reap the wellbeing benefits if you do it only once or a couple of times, but if you journal as part of your daily or weekly routine, I’m sure you will soon see the benefits and want to continue. If you want to learn more about instilling new habits like journalling check out this post. Let me know in the comments if you are already a regular journaller and what impact it’s had on your life.