~ Henny Youngman
It’s time for another installment in our series on “the Basics,” the ten components that make up the “foundation for recovery” from depression, as taught at the outpatient behavioral health treatment programs I attended. To date, we have covered food, sleep, medication, laughter, exercise, spirituality and relaxation. Today’s topic is journaling.
At its most basic, journaling is similar to keeping a diary, writing down your thoughts and feelings and insights about your life and what is going on around you. It’s more than just recording the events of your daily life, though. It’s a means of self-exploration and self-expression. An article on psychcentral.com lists some of the benefits of journaling, which include the ability to clarify your thoughts and feelings, know yourself better, reduce stress, and solve problems more effectively. It’s also a good way to track your progress as your moods improve.
Journaling doesn’t have to be as straitlaced as just writing “Dear Diary” entries, though. Sometimes it can be daunting to write out our innermost thoughts and feelings. Variations might include writing poetry or songs, writing letters to others (that you may or may not wish to actually send), writing lists (for example, “ten things I wish I had known ten years ago,” “five things I couldn’t live without, and why”), or keeping a gratitude journal (which I described in a previous post).
If you are totally stumped for something to write about, google “journal prompts” and you will find lists of topics to explore. Or try “free writing” where you set a time limit (maybe 10 to 15 minutes) and for that amount of time you write down whatever pops into your mind, whether it “makes sense” or not.
For some of us, writing in and of itself can be a challenge. If that’s the case, we may want to collect and compile quotes or lyrics that speak to us. I keep a “quote journal” online that you can see here. If you are more artistic or visually inclined, keeping a photo journal or a sketch journal may be more meaningful. Creating photos, drawings, doodles, paintings, collages, scrapbooks, etc. can all be as therapeutic as writing, so long as it is done mindfully.
To get the most out of your journaling experience, here are a few guidelines:
** Let go of perfectionism. Don’t worry if you’re not using perfect grammar or spelling as you write. Don’t worry if your penmanship isn’t beautiful. I used to buy nicely bound journals to write in, but I discovered that I was inhibited by not wanting to “ruin” the journal with my sloppy handwriting. I resolved that issue by buying plain lined-paper spiral-bound notebooks to write in. If I really didn’t like an entry, I could rip it out without destroying the binding, and I didn’t feel compelled to keep everything neat and tidy on the page. Another option might be to do your journaling on a computer.
** Don’t judge. Most often, a written journal is for your eyes only. So don’t judge your thoughts and feelings, just write them down honestly and mindfully. Part of the value of journaling is in the process itself, getting your perceptions down on paper. You may not even ever reread what you’ve written, and that can be okay, too. The benefit is in the doing.
** Be consistent. It is best if you can write at least a little every day. It may help to set a specific time each day and commit to at least 10 to 15 minutes, more if you feel like it. Some people prefer writing in the morning when their minds are fresh; others write in the evening so they can reflect on their day. I found that if I write at night, it is more likely to turn into a recording of the day’s events rather than an introspection on my thoughts and feelings, so it is better for me to write earlier in the day. Find what works for you.
Sometimes journaling is easy for me and at other times it seems tedious and forced. But it truly does help me to explore my thoughts and feelings, and it’s certainly worth the minimal time and effort required.
Only two more “basics” are left to cover: reaching out and affirmations (coincidentally the two that I have the hardest time with… or maybe not so coincidental).