February 23, 2018
When we are struggling with something difficult in life and feeling depressed or anxious; we can often be so caught up with feelings and thoughts in our mind, it can feel like a churning washing machine going round and round with no formulation of clear ideas. Writing a journal can help disrupt this cycle of thoughts.
I often suggest journalling to my clients when they are finding it difficult to process painful emotions and thoughts and when dealing with anxiety. The very act of getting some of these thoughts onto a page can allow structure to form and release us from the inner repeating thoughts. It can effectively provide some freedom from the noise and the pain. It can allow us to begin to explore the ideas more succinctly and clearly and extrapolate important relevant feelings from negative ways of thinking. This in turn helps the healing process to begin.
How to Start Writing your Journal
There is no right way or wrong way to do this.
You might want to set aside as little as ten minutes or more than thirty minutes a day, possibly at the same time or when you are pulled to do so. It generally helps to write a little every day to keep the momentum going.
You may choose to write by hand on paper – and therefore unable to edit and change your initial thoughts – a kind of ‘stream of consciousness’. It’s important to be able to freely write without your ‘internal critic’ rubbishing your writing. Brainstorming or mind-mapping ideas can be a useful way to link ideas and thoughts if it feels a bit too much to write on a blank sheet of paper. If you very much prefer to write on a computer, then switch the grammar autocorrect off and resist the urge to read and edit as you go along – this might not be easy as we are so used to this editing process when using a keyboard. It’s important for you to recognise that all your ideas and thoughts have value. If you haven’t written by hand for some time, experiment and try it that way – you might surprise yourself and find enjoyment in a new experience.
What to Write in the Journal
This is the opportunity to write about anything that comes to mind. You may have jotted a few words down earlier or have a few thoughts that have been repeating throughout the day. This is your chance to explore more and expand on the thoughts and feelings. You could write about feelings from conversations had during the day, emotions you felt, things people have said to you. Give yourself permission to be honest. You may find it difficult to be honest with yourself or with others at times and this is an opportunity not to self-censure.
You might find it helpful to write to a particular person (without necessarily wanting or needing to send or give it to them). It could be something you find extremely difficult to say to someone and writing it down may help you to deal with the pain. It could be that the person is no longer with you or you’re unable to talk to them. Try not to plan or think too much about what you are writing, just allow the words to flow. Don’t worry about spellings, grammar or meaning – this is private unless you choose to show someone else. Editing and considering sentence construction will stop the flow and block the emotions. Consider using drawings if you are able to communicate easily that way.
Allow Time to Reflect on your Writing
Reading and reflecting on what you have written allows you to revisit, remember and see your journey forwards.
Write a date on your entries for when you return and reflect.
- Do you still feel the same way about the issue/decision/feelings etc?
- Do you need to challenge your original thoughts?
- Are you able to look back and analyse whether your thinking was accurate/ misguided or biased for example?
- Can you identify particular triggers for certain behaviours or ways of thinking?
Perhaps a little time to move on from the thoughts allows you to reconsider and feel differently.
Writing a Journal when ‘Everything is Ok’
Writing a journal provides an opportunity to explore thoughts and feelings even when it feels nothing much is an issue, everything is moving along smoothly. If you know you are the type of person who bottles up emotions to enable to you cope and carry on, you may find that writing about current or past painful feelings and troubles can allow you to move the pain from somewhere deep inside you, to outside of you and can also help with the healing process.
Some people like to buy a special book to use and like to find a place where it can be kept private.
Journalling should also be an enjoyable process. If it is causing you more pain, perhaps discussing this further with a counsellor or psychotherapist may be useful.