The other day Daniel J Layton uploaded a video in association with Penguin Platform on their YouTube channel about how great journaling is for your mental health. I’ve been thinking about this for a while – it was something that was recommended to me by a counsellor for my mental health a while back, and I recommend it to everyone because it has helped me so much, so I thought I would share my thoughts on the matter.
I’ve written a diary for years – I used to pretend to write by scribbling a pen over paper in squiggly lines before I could even write, and I’ve had my fair share of countless products marketed as secret diaries and journals over the years. They weren’t often very successful though – I would lose the key to the padlock keeping them shut (I will never know what seven year old me really thought about her crushes), or my password journal would run out of batteries and keep me locked out, or I would simply get bored and stop. One year, when I was about 8 or 9, my mum made my brother and me keep daily diaries over the course of the summer holiday, and in late August, I wrote ‘I read through my diary today. It’s pretty boring.’ That one sentence pretty much sums up my early experience with journaling.
When I was in my first year of secondary school in 2010, I tried to make it my New Year’s resolution to write in my diary more, mainly as a way to remember things later in life. And I did; I wrote sporadic entries over the course of years seven to twelve. I used it when I was happy to record great things that had happened, and when I was sad, angry, or upset to vent my feelings and work through them. The physical action of writing things down really helped me work through what I was experiencing, and process my feelings.
I reached a real low point in my mental health around year twelve, going through the stresses of the IB and University expectations from the school I was at, and I went to a counsellor for a while. She asked if I wrote in a diary, and if I found that it helped, and I said that yes, I did, and that it did help. She recommended that I write every night, and at the very least, just write one positive thing that had happened to me during the day, and if I was writing anything else, to finish with a positive thing. It could be something nice that someone said to me, that someone did for me, or just a nice experience that I had that made me feel good. Ever since then, I have written a journal entry every night, which means I’ve been daily journaling for three and a half years now, and the difference it has made to my mental health is astounding.
It’s by no means been a cure for my mental health issues – nothing really is a full cure – but it has helped me so much. I have a much more positive outlook now, and I sleep far easier having vented my feelings on paper. A few times, when I’ve been unable to write on paper for whatever reason, I’ve typed it on my phone, which doesn’t have quite the same effect for me, but it does still help. Having something that takes 100% of my attention, away from a screen with constant notifications distracting me, and facilitates me processing the events of the day in my own time, is invaluable to me. And now I have a record of every day of the past three and a half years of my life. I’ve started using my journals as scrapbooks as well, sticking in tickets and pictures, which makes it so nice to look back through, especially to look at the positive events of each day.
Now, I need to acknowledge that I am in the very fortunate position of liking to write. I have always liked to write, and given my degree subject and hopes for the future, I hope I always will. So journaling, whilst a challenge in routine, was not necessarily a challenge in task for me. I’m well aware that some people will hate journaling, they’ll write two words and set fire to their notebook, never to write another word again. But this is just a note to say give it a go, if you haven’t already. You don’t have to go as hard as I do, maybe try once a week, if that’s more your speed. But whatever you do, give it a try. You might like it.