I’ve had an obsession with notebooks since I was a small child. There’s something about how fresh paper smells and the possibilities that come with an empty journal that’s so exciting. But I never actually filled a journal until this year. Journaling has been a feature in my self-care routine for a while, but it’s far from a habit. Now that I’m living in the most bizarre period of my life, I wanted to make journaling a daily activity. I want to share my experience trying to do so (spoiler- I failed), and some tips to make journaling more helpful for stress management. So without further ado, here is my experience:
Today is April 2, 2020, and I am beginning my attempt to journal every day for 30 days. I am very familiar with journaling as I have already been doing it semi-regularly for the past few years. However, I feel that writing my thoughts down every day instead of only when something significant happens is a good way to quell anxiety. I also want to get to know myself a little better. Fortunately, I have help with this challenge. Yesterday, Maggie Rogers posted on her Instagram an invitation to “The Isolation Journals,” – an email subscription to a daily journaling prompt written by a collective of artists for the next 30 days. How convenient! So, to complete this challenge, I will be following the prompts from The Isolation Journals.
The prompt today asked to write to someone who you lied to about how you really feel. I love this prompt because most of the time I use journaling as a mechanism to get stuff off my chest that I don’t necessarily want to actually tell someone. I wrote about something that I’ve been struggling with for a while and tends to be the focus of my journal entries this year, so it feels good to actually be honest and put it behind me. Now, I don’t have to wonder what I could have said since I wrote it down and got it out.
I already fell off the band wagon and it hasn’t even been a week. I missed day 3 and fully intended to write day 3 and 4, but never got around to 4. It’s important to encourage yourself to stay on track but not beat yourself up if you make a mistake. You’re trying something new! No one is ever perfect at something on the first try.
After riding that wave of self-encouragement on day 5, I successfully journaled every day that week. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep the momentum going and I think I know why. I thought that following a daily journaling prompt would be helpful to remind me to journal every day. Instead, I’ve found that my goals for journaling are different than the goals of the prompt subscription.
The subscription aims to spark creativity in the writer. Through my inconsistency, I’ve discovered that I journal to preserve memories and to mentally cleanse instead. I prefer to reflect on my life here and now rather than imagine a hypothetical situation or create a storyline. As a result, I have been avoiding journaling because the prompts make it seem like a task rather than an activity or something beneficial for me. From now on, I think I will abandon the daily prompts and only write what comes to mind or what I feel I need to write about. Hopefully, I will feel like I am doing it because I want to rather than because I have to.
I made it to the end! Although I did not accomplish my goal of journaling every single day, I did write 20/30 days. I also succeeded in learning more about myself and preserving moments from this bizarre time in my life. Ultimately, journaling isn’t something I can pressure myself to do because I will avoid it at all costs. Journaling is a method of stress relief for me. Making it another task on my to-do list makes the process the exact opposite of relaxing.
If you want to start journaling as a method for easing stress and anxiety, here are some tips that I learned over the course of this month that make it easier and more natural:
Find a designated time of day
I like to journal at night because I can process the events of the day. However, I know many people like to write in the morning to start their day with a clear mind. It took me a few days to figure out that right before bed is the best time for me. Having a designated time of day for journaling makes it easier for it to become part of your routine and optimizes its effects.
Keep your journal in a visible location
Having your journal in a visible location prevents you from forgetting about it. Often when I feel overwhelmed, I forget that coping mechanisms exist other than sitting in bed and Netflixing all day. Because I like to journal in my bed, I keep it on my bedside table to remind me that it is always an option.
Don’t make journaling a task
Journaling is no longer beneficial once it becomes a task. Although I was pushing myself to journal every day, there were some days when I didn’t really need to. Eventually, I let go of the pressure to journal every day and only wrote when I felt like I needed to. This change made the activity actually enjoyable.
In this time of craziness, I know that feelings of hopelessness and fear are common for everyone. Even if you have never considered journaling as a relaxation technique, I highly recommend it for everyone. It’s a great way to prevent yourself from ruminating in your negative thoughts. And, at the end of the day, it’s so fun to write about your life and look back on it years later.