Ah, the healing power of putting pen to paper. If you've ever cracked open a notebook to pour your heart out after losing a loved one, going through a tough breakup, or simply trying to make sense of your life, you're well-acquainted with how helpful it can be to just let the words flow.
And if you haven't, well, there's arguably never been a more important time to start journaling. We're in the midst of a global pandemic, and most of our lives have been turned completely upside down as we navigate job losses, juggle working from home and caring for children, or deal with the mental health ramifications of spending so much time alone. And then, of course, we're also worrying about our health and the health of the people we love.
"Our thoughts are where we create our feelings," explains certified life coach Felicia Broccolo. "When our feelings are chaotic and out of control, it’s usually because our thoughts are also chaotic and out of control. Journaling allows us to organize and make sense of our thoughts. It allows us to look at our thoughts objectively and decide which ones we want to keep and which ones we want to throw away. This alone can help calm and ground our feelings."
We know journaling is good for our mental and emotional health, but how can we find the type of journaling that works best for us, and then turn it into a habit? It's easier than you might think—here's what you need to know.
The different types of journaling
When many of us thinking of journaling, we imagine opening a notebook and simply letting our thoughts pour out of our heads and onto the paper. In reality, journaling is way more complex than that, and we mean this in a good way, because creating some structure around the process can make it a whole lot more doable for many of us.
There are so many forms of journaling out there. When you think about adopting it as a practice, the sky's the limit—the way someone else journals does not have to be the way you journal. Here are four popular types of journaling and how each can be beneficial.
Reflective journaling is when you use your journal to reflect on a past experience, be that a positive or a negative one.
"Journaling geared toward reflecting on negative past experiences can be cathartic by detangling the negative experiences," explains clinical psychologist Carla Manly. "Journaling that is focused on positive past experiences can be affirming and supportive as a result of encouraging reminders upbeat, positive experiences."
Broccolo noted that there's another benefit to journaling on past experiences, too: "Reflective journaling can help us decide how we want to end a story," she says.
By writing down what we see for ourselves in the future, journaling can be a tool for helping us get clear on what we want and take the action steps to get there. This can be especially helpful right now, when it feels like everything is out of our control.
"This can help us feel like we have some measure of control in our lives," explains Broccolo. "We may not know what’s ahead, but we do know we’re steering the ship."
Recording our experiences
What if we don't feel like writing down our innermost thoughts in dreams, but instead simply want to record what happens to us on a day-to-day basis? This is a great exercise, too.
"Using journaling in a diary-oriented fashion can be a soothing and cathartic way of offloading daily life experiences," says Manly. "When the mind is able to 'store' its experiences in a safe place, a sense of relief often comes from knowing that the experiences are safely held in the confines of the journal. This can create a sense of emotional and mental spaciousness."
Going off a prompt
This is a great idea for anyone who's ever felt intimidated by the act of journaling. And it has some very specific benefits.
"When using a prompt style of journaling, the mind can focus on a specific idea or intention," Manly says. "For example, a prompt about gratitude, or even a more specific prompt such as 'being grateful for my health' provides the opportunity to focus on an issue that otherwise might go unnoticed or ignored."
How to make journaling a habit
So, how can you make journaling into a habit that really sticks? The first step is to find a journaling method that works for you. You may want to try one of the four options above and see which one feels the most natural. You can reflect on how you feel afterward, too: Are you calmer? Happier? We're a lot more likely to stick to things when we enjoy doing them. If you're a Silk + Sonder member, try using your mood tracker to figure this one out.
Once you've nailed the first part down, use your Silk + Sonder habit tracker to record all the days you journal. The more you do it, the more you'll look forward to it: In 2020, journaling is the ultimate act of self-care.
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