Your counsellor may have asked you to journal as part of your therapy, but what does it mean, and why is it a good thing to do?
It sounds like something from a corny American teen movie doesn’t it? “I’m gonna write in my journal…”.
Here's me with my ACTUAL journal. mine has a lock on it for EXTRA privacy ------------>
If you’ve ever had therapy, chances are your counsellor has suggested (or will) you keep a “journal”, but what do they mean?
Simply put, a journal is an account of your day. It may include things that triggered certain feelings, ratings of 1-10 of emotions you felt, and an honest, raw, “no holds barred” recant of your situation from your perspective.
But what’s it for, and how will it help you with your anxiety, depression, or stress?
Here are 4 reasons that Journals can help your mental health:
1. MEASURABLE OUTCOMES - Having a personal record of how you felt day by day helps you monitor your emotional changes. It can highlight things you may not consciously know as triggering. It can also be an indication of whether things are improving for you. The written word can't be contested by sketchy memories of how you think you felt last Thursday, it will actually be written down, FROM THURSDAY! If you're working with a counsellor hopefully you will be able to see your progress, and be able to look back and see how far you've come - how lovely will that be?
2. IT FEELS GOOD - Writing your deepest thoughts on a piece of paper, for your eyes only, releases it from your head on to the page, then back in through your eyes. It allows you an external perspective on your internal world. It's almost as good as talking to a counsellor (but not quite ;-) )
The effects are calming, soothing and it releases endorphins in to your brain to make you relax. Scientists in labs have done experiments somewhere, and they said it was dead good and that (or words to that effect).
3. CLARIFIES – The process of writing involves you having to concentrate fully on what you’re writing about. In this case YOU. Barely do we give enough thought in our busy lives to how things make us feel, and if you're very stressed and busy, this is even less so. Writing brings thoughts in to focus simply by its action, and thoughts will pop into your head you didn’t even know were going to come out if you let them. Put them down on that paper!
4. SIMPLIFIES - By number rating your emotions, or by using emojis, you don’t have to try to describe difficult feelings you can’t put into words. It simplifies the process of being introspective, and can lead you in to the journey of self-exploration more gently.
"Ok, its good for my mind, but how do I do a journal?"
Here are 6 steps to get you going:
1. The fun bit – Get yourself to a fancy stationery shop and pick out a really nice notebook and pen, just for your journal – No using it for shopping lists ok? This is for one purpose only. If you want one with a lock on it like mine, I bought mine on eBay.
2. Set aside some time - Each day at the end of the day where you won’t be disturbed, somewhere quiet, even if it’s just a few minutes. Have you ever been writing something that’s in your head, then someone speaks to you whilst you’re writing, and you start writing what they’re saying rather than what you’re meant to be typing? See, writing needs your full attention to be successful.
3. Just start - Start writing what comes into your head about the day. Starters like these can help: Name 3 good things, and 3 things you found difficult. Name some emotions, rate them out of 10. Ultimately, let your thoughts flow on to the page. Read them back to yourself.
4. Take it easy on yourself - Don’t berate yourself if you forget a day or don’t like what you’ve written. It’s ok, it’s not meant to be a punishment!
5. Analyse this - Be your own analyst about your journal entries for the week – Not how your sentences were structured, or whether it makes any sense. What do you notice about yourself? Who do you remind yourself of? See what is changing for you as you go along, notice what words strike you with strong emotions. Above all, be kind to yourself – try not to judge what you wrote or try to make it perfect.
6. Bring your thoughts to therapy – You don’t have to bring your journal, that is private for you, but if you want to, share your findings with your counsellor. Strong emotions can be triggered with journalling, and it's a good idea to have someone to explore these with if you need to.
So ... hopefully I haven’t put you off journaling all together, and you can potentially see the benefits of what you’ve been asked to do by your counsellor. Try it yourself - as Neil Buchanan (or should I say Banksy...?) would say.