Trying to find coping mechanisms with things like mental health symptoms and every day stressors can be just as frustrating as experiencing those symptoms themselves. The constant cycle of trying something new, not liking it, and looking for a different practical mechanism can be exhausting. One of the most popular mechanisms that I have a love/hate relationship with is journaling. I wanted to share the “dos” and “don’ts” of regular journaling, as well as some tips and tricks that have helped me along the way.
My first mistake when beginning to journal a couple years ago was treating it like a diary. This works for some people, but for me, it didn’t really help to just recount step-by-step what had happened during my day. I was also having a hard time writing about my mental health symptoms – at times, addressing them after they already passed was triggering for me. It also got to be repetitive for me to document the schedule of my days in my journal. I didn’t see the point in writing during a week where I was particularly depressed because all of my entries were so similar. Writing several pages of: “Today was a bad day. I didn’t do much and I have a feeling tomorrow will be the same. *Insert problem here* is still bothering me. I’m not sure if I will find a way to fix it,” was getting tiring and obviously not helping me.
When I finally got so tired of looking at my journal as a book with all my sad and boring days in the form of sentences, I turned to Pinterest (as one does). There, I was able to find prompts that uplifted me and made me think about positive situations, rather than just recount the awful days I was having. One style of prompt that I particularly enjoy involves goals that I have; big goals, small goals, goals that seem like they would only be achieved in a perfect world, and some that were simply just a mundane to-do list for the day. By writing about things that made me think happier thoughts, I noticed that I was in fact becoming a happier person, too. If you still want to write about how your day went – maybe as a way to track your mood for a certain amount of time – prompts can still be helpful for you. Utilizing “daily self-reflection” prompts that focus on the positive aspects of your day can be incredibly helpful.
Another piece of advice that I have come to realize is that there is no right way to write in a journal. It sounds pretty self-explanatory, but at the end of the day, your journal is for yourself and yourself only. It doesn’t matter if you’re very articulate and specific one day, and the next day you don’t write more than a sentence. This isn’t homework or something that another individual is going to “grade” for any reason, it’s just for you. Thankfully, writing for ourselves is something that we don’t need perfect spelling and grammar to do.
Finally, I just want to say that journaling and/or writing down your thoughts and feelings in a personal space should not feel like something that holds a lot of weight. Again, this isn’t meant to be a research paper with perfect formatting, and there is certainly no due date or page number requirement. If you miss a day (intentionally or not), don’t beat yourself up about it. You can always try again tomorrow…or whenever you feel like it again. I used to get so upset if I missed a day of writing before bed, because I felt like I owed it to myself to keep track of how I was doing. In reality, if I did miss a day, it was because I really needed to just take a break.
So, if you find yourself stuck and not knowing how to start (or continue) journaling, consider giving it another try with these few tips. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little inspiration from an outside source, and at the very least, it can just catapult you into writing more comfortably about yourself!