I recently offered my services to a wellbeing festival near where I live. I did an hour long journaling workshop, designed to be a (very) brief introduction to getting started.
One of the first mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapies I tried that actually worked for me was journaling (there had been many other tips and techniques that didn’t work!). Now, its my go to technique and the thing I am most likely to recommend!
But what exactly is journaling? How can it help and why does it work? Let’s start you on your journaling journey today!
So, what exactly is this journaling malarkey?!
Journaling is essentially just a method of recording…well, anything really! It is used by people in all walks of life, in a million different professions, for countless different purposes!
When we think more specifically about journaling for wellbeing and mental health we can narrow it down a bit! It’s an area that is, understandably, growing in popularity amid the recent high profile recognition of stress, depression and anxiety in all walks of life.
From a wellbeing point of view journaling is recording your feelings and emotions about the events of the day, the week, the month, the year. It is looking at patterns and using the information to improve how we view our life.
From a business or organisational point of view it helps us to be more productive and keep on task.
What types of journaling are there?
Well, to be honest, the list is endless! You’ve probably heard of travel journals, dream journals, food, art and reading journals. Most of you, I imagine keep some sort of diary. Then there are ‘morning pages’ and ‘emotional release journaling’. According to the purpose of your journal, there are numerous options on offer!
Two of the most popular approaches to journaling are ‘Bullet Journals’ and ‘Gratitude Journals’. These are what I’m going to focus on here, because, well, we don’t have a year to go through all the options and my hands will wear out and the laptop will die before I can go through everything!
What’s the point of all this journaling – are there any benefits?
Honestly, in my opinion the benefits are wide ranging and astounding!
Journaling, as a tool, can be accessible to absolutely anybody! You are not restricted by age, ability, social standing – anything! Journals are primarily for your own use, so you never have to show them to anybody! It doesn’t matter if you can’t spell, if you want to draw but you’re not great at it, who cares? Its yours, and yours alone! I have used journals in school with children as young as two – in fact my own three year old son has a ‘bedtime book’, his own first journal!
You can dip in and out of journaling. I would advocate using it often and in a routine way, but if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. You could do it daily, weekly, monthly, even yearly. You could do it all the time, or only when you felt ‘the need’. The physical act of journaling, whenever you choose to do it, can have a positive effect.
It can help you to ‘unplug’ from life – using pen and paper can be grounding. It removes you from the call of technology, the noise of the TV or radio.
It provides you with time to be alone with your own authentic voice.
Journaling is good for quick stress relief – it can help you gain perspective on a situation as you’re in it.
It reduces stress by helping to facilitate problem solving. It helps us to uncover and understand our behaviour and character, which in the long run is one of the biggest benefits of journaling.
It can give you a sense of control, and show you patterns of people, places, experiences and thoughts that are present at times of stress. Linked to this, journaling helps you understand the causes of your stress and anxiety. The patterns you see will show your own actions and highlight your unconscious effect on your conscious.
Journaling can help you track your progress, empowering and enabling you to have the confidence to keep moving forward and setting goals that you know you can achieve.
In addition there are proven physical benefits of journaling – it can decrease the symptoms of asthma and arthritis, it can improve cognitive functioning, it strengthens the immune system (which can prevent a host of other illnesses), and can counteract many of the physical symptoms of stress.
All in all, journaling is full of benefits . . . but how do you get started?
What do you need?
If I said “a pen and a bit of paper”, would you believe me? I was recently in one of my favourite stationery heavens (it should come as no surprise to you that I am obsessed with stationery!) and I counted no less than 14 different types of gratitude journals alone! Then there were all the other types and style of journal on offer!
Whilst I am in no way anti these journals (I often use them myself) and would certainly advocate the use of brilliant published versions like the one created by the business club’s very own Sophie Jewry, you don’t really need anything more exciting than a bit of paper and a pen to get you started on your journey. A nice notebook (even a not-very-nice one) will do just fine. And you know what? That furry old biro you just found down the back of the sofa will record your thoughts just as well as that set of sparkly gel pens you’ve been eyeing up (yes, I saw you! I was eyeing it up too).
As my journaling journey has progressed my stationery use has evolved and I do love to select a special notebook for the purpose, but for now, lets just start.
A little word about journaling apps.
Now, just to clarify, technology scares me! I am so far from ‘tech savvy’ I need instructions just to turn my laptop on! I can get by, and once I know how to use something – I use it all the time (yes, I’m talking about you Microsoft Publisher!), but there are some fab journaling apps available out there, such as my Gratitude Journal (£2.99), Live Happy (free +in app purchases) and Thankful For Gratitude Diary (£1.99). I have tried all of these and they do a fine job of organising my thoughts and giving me prompts.
But . . . I am an ardent encourager of the handwritten method! A 2014 study by scientists from Princeton University and the University of California, found that writing notes by hand is much better for long-term memory of ideas and conceptual information. When we write physically, we first have to process the information we are recording, which leads us to deeper understanding. For me, that is the purpose of journaling! Physically writing our journals is good exercise for our brains – it stimulates our brain cells and improves our memory.
So – journaling? What, why and how?
I promised you that I would focus on gratitude journaling and bullet journaling, so here are my top tips!
Bullet journaling is a system of rapidly inputting information into your journal. It’s a very visual way of organising your data as each item on your list is identified by a different bullet symbol according to the category it belongs to. It is particularly useful for noticing patterns (all those things you keep putting off, so they keep ending up rolled into he next month!), and for increasing your productivity. I could write reams of notes here on how to do it best, but I use this little video by Ryder Carroll (to whom Bullet Journaling is attributed and licensed) to set up my own bullet journal, and it doesn’t come much simpler:
Gratitude journaling does exactly what it says on the tin – it is a journal of all the things you are grateful for. There are a fair few ways of doing this, but, as with any type of journaling it can be as brief or as broad as you want to make it. Depending on the type of journaling you do, this will dictate how frequently you do it. You can follow a daily pattern, or you can try asking a different question every day. When you do it is up to you, but at the end of the day or just before bed is ideal as you can reflect on your day. Ending the day on a positive helps us to avoid our sabre tooth tigers.
Gratitude journaling, over time helps us to focus more on the positives, even in the difficult siuations. It is, hands down, my favourite kind of journaling, but that’s not to say we’ve had an easy ride together. I have a tendency to keep a hold of my sabre tooth tigers and struggle to let them get on their way to wherever they were heading when they tried to eat me that day. It turned out that no amount of gratitude would release them on their way! If you struggle with focussing on the bad stuff, try addressing it in your journal. Its fine to put the ‘not-so-good’ stuff too, even though you’re writing a positive journal. For me, dealing with the bad stuff first helps me to put it in its place, address it and move on. That way I’m more open to the positives.
So, how do I journal?
My journaling journey, as I said earlier, has developed and changed over time. Any endeavour into journaling should hold ‘YOU’ at its heart and if it’s not working for you, look at another way. I have spoken specifically about a couple of forms, but journaling comes in many shapes and sizes. I spent ages encouraging my husband to try gratitude journaling but he just couldn’t get to grips with it – it felt too much like a chore. Just last week, as I was watching him doing his daily creative writing, I pointed out that he’d finally found the journaling route that worked for him. The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to journal, it’s whatever works for you.
These days I hold a set of questions as my daily prompts. I ask myself these things, in this order:
- What will make today great?
- 3 things that I felt bad about today (my sabre tooth tigers!)
- 3 things I am grateful for today
- 3 Amazing things that happened today
- 3 people I am grateful for today
- How could I have made today better?
- What did I do for self care today?
I don’t necessarily answer all the questions everyday, sometimes I skip a couple, sometimes I go into more detail, but I never fail to address those sabre tooth tigers, and I always find three things to be grateful for. Thinking about making my day great sets me up in a positive mindset. I either do that part before bed the night before, or very first thing in the morning.
So, journaling? The power and the pleasure? It honestly works for me, (as I’m sure you can tell – my longest Blog yet!). I would love you to give it a go. I can tell when I’m not doing it – I feel somehow ‘sunken’, and then lifted up when I start again. If I haven’t convinced you that it’s a worth a go, maybe the incredible Yanik Silver can encourage you. He’s a huge advocate of journaling and for him, his journal is like ‘a magic secret weapon’. Not only is he massively successful, passionate about ethical and evolved business and totally down to earth, but he LOVES stationery – my spirit animal!
Yanik Silver can encourage you. He’s a huge advocate of journaling and for him, his journal is like ‘a magic secret weapon’. Not only is he massively successful, passionate about ethical and evolved business and totally down to earth, but he LOVES stationery – my spirit animal!
If you’d like any more information on journaling, or want to ask me any questions, please do get in touch! I promise not to natter your ear off, and only give you useful tips!
Bye for now!
Raegon Guest – gal on the ground!
About the Author
I’m Raegon Guest, your ‘Gal on the Ground’! I’m a new-start therapist and I’ll be following the member content and providing feedback to you and the team. I moved from my teaching job to become a stress management consultant. I now work with those in the education sector to implement stress reduction strategies for staff, children and families.