Feeling overwhelmed with emotions or stress is something that most of us experience every day. And, if we want to take better care of ourselves, it’s important that we take the time to pause and examine our feelings.
One of the best ways to practice self-care is by journaling. By putting our thoughts and feelings into writing, we’re able to address our worries, pour our emotions out, and clear our minds. A self-care journal is like a safe space for us where we can unravel whatever’s entangled inside of us without feeling misunderstood or judged.
Journaling has scientifically proven benefits for our mental wellbeing. Here, I’ll be talking more about why journaling is an effective self-care tool and how you can incorporate it into your daily routine.
Journaling, gratitude, mindfulness, and introspection. What do all these things have in common? It’s that they’re all significantly correlated to your happiness. That’s what the section Journaling For Happiness is all about in the biggest (freely available) guide on how to be happy.
Science-backed benefits of journaling
When we were kids, keeping a diary used to be just a fun way to record our carefree days. But, as we’ve gotten older, taking notes about our day, as one may realize, can actually be a therapeutic medium. In the practice of psychology, it has been found that journaling can relieve stress and anxiety.
In this study, college students were investigated on how they use personal writing to reduce stress and anxiety, and it has been concluded that journaling is the go-to writing medium when processing emotional hardships.
Another study has found that expressive writing, especially for those who have undergone traumatic events, has both psychological and physical benefits. Participants were asked to write about either emotional events or neutral topics. And those who wrote about events that had an impact on them had significantly better outcomes in terms of their physical and psychological findings.
This further strengthens the therapeutic effects of journaling especially for survivors of trauma and other psychiatric patients.
Journaling for self-care
“Self-care” has become a trendy buzz word lately. On the surface, self-care may mean having bubble baths and getting massages. But, if we dig deeper into the real essence of taking care of ourselves, it’s more about understanding what our inner selves need and then addressing those needs.
More often than not, what our inner selves are struggling with are the emotions that we fail to process. Sometimes, we don’t know why we’re in a bad mood or why we’re suddenly lashing out at someone that we care about. It’s because we haven’t properly acknowledged what we’re truly feeling inside.
Journaling is one of the best tools that can help with this. Personally, writing my thoughts and feelings down is like finding a friend in me.
Most of the things that I struggle with are usually something that I can’t easily share with other people, even my best friends. And so, creating a safe space with just me, a pen, and a paper helps me release the emotional tensions that are burdening me without the fear of being judged or not listened to.
Clearing the mind
Our feelings become less overwhelming or scary when we talk about them.
But, as I have mentioned, we don’t always have it in us to discuss our hardships with someone else. This is where self-care journaling comes in.
Just like talking to a therapist or a friend, writing your feelings down can alleviate the weight on your shoulders. For me, once I’ve written my feelings down, it’s like I’ve separated myself from these stressful thoughts and emotions.
Journaling reminds me that I am not my thoughts, and my thoughts don’t define me. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I realize that removing the turbulence within me can be easily done by simply releasing it through pen and paper.
Once I’ve done this, I begin to have a clearer vision of how I can approach my struggles and move forward.
To be completely honest with you, I also struggle with incorporating journaling into my regular routine. And, because of this very reason, I have found the importance of keeping track of your moods and how you’ve dealt with them.
Whenever I have anxious moments, I make sure to describe my experience through writing and keep track of how I’ve managed it – whether it’s through tangible steps such as scheduling a therapy session or through affirmations that I’ve told myself to help me cope.
I’m grateful for the times that I’ve written about events that had an emotional impact on me, because I can go back to them whenever I face a similar situation.
It’s like a guidebook that I’ve written for myself to help me through the tough times.
6 ways to journal for self-care
Now that we’ve established the (many) benefits of journaling, it’s time to try it out with these easy steps to strengthen your self-care practice!
1. Stick to a self-care ritual
Carve out 10 to 20 minutes of your day to do some journaling. It can be something that you do to start your day or to end it. You can also use this time as a break in your daily grind especially if you’re working long hours.
Aside from allotting time for it, you can also make your journal routine much more relaxing to add to its self-care quality.
Perhaps, you can have a cup of coffee, listen to a calming playlist, and write next to a window. Whichever way you do it, make sure that it’s a ritual that’s as enjoyable as it is cathartic for you.
2. Release your feelings
The whole point of journaling is letting those bottled feelings out.
So, when you write, be sure to be honest with yourself. No one will read it anyway!
Don’t judge whatever you’re feeling or thinking. It’s okay to just release your thoughts as if you’re spilling the tea to your best friend.
When I write, I allow myself to pour out even the ugly things that I’m feeling that, sometimes, I’m even afraid to admit to myself. Being true to where I’m currently at emotionally and mentally is key to successful journaling.
If you’re not sure how to begin, think of an event that has affected you recently and describe your feelings around it. Whether it’s positive, negative, or even neutral, just write your heart out. It doesn’t have to be creative, poetic, and even grammatically correct or structured.
Just release your feelings and let your guard down!
3. Take time to process
The next step to freeing is processing. As I’ve mentioned earlier, journaling helps me to step away from my thoughts and feelings and see them as something that happened or is happening to me rather than as something that’s a part of me.
When you write a journal, make sure that it allows you to discover what you’re capable of and how you can manage your situation. For me, I ask myself questions that help me find a solution.
Some examples are:
- Where is this feeling coming from?
- Is there a real threat or is it just anxiety talking?
- How should I respond in a way that won’t hurt me further?
- What can I do to move forward?
Processing our feelings will help us clear our minds and see a more open path ahead of us. It will help us turn something negative into something positive. Use journaling as a tool not just to acknowledge your feelings but also to address how you can move forward.
4. Try guided journaling ideas or resources
If you want to go beyond the “Dear diary” aspect of journaling, try searching for guided resources, prompts, or journal notebooks that already have a daily structure in them. If you do the research, you’ll find something out there that speaks to your personality and what you’re going through.
You also don’t have to stick to pen and paper.
For the tech-savvy, you can use your laptop or mobile phone to type your feelings down especially if you’re on the go. You can download journaling apps, too, if you want to go beyond the notes app that you already have.
Here’s a video that I find helpful if you’re just getting started on journaling:
5. Be grateful
Aside from recording how you feel and how you want to move forward, journaling is also a great way to allow gratitude into our daily lives. Having a gratitude list can make a huge impact especially if you’re navigating through some rough patches.
If you find that journaling about your emotions can be heavy, pointing out what you’re grateful for can make this practice much lighter. This is also a great daily ritual because you get to realize how blessed your life is no matter what you’re going through.
Each day, write down one thing that you’re thankful for, and you’ll definitely thank me as well later!
6. Don’t edit
Journaling is about writing freely. So, don’t worry about grammatically incorrect phrases, run-on sentences, or incorrect spelling.
This is not a graded essay. You won’t receive likes or comments the way you do in your diary-like status on Facebook. This is for your eyes only, so don’t be too conscious about what you’re writing and how you’re writing it.
As long as you understand what you wrote and you can reread your journal whenever you need to, then that’s good enough!
Journaling can be a delightfully cathartic journey. It allows you to unpack your feelings without judgment and get to know yourself in the safest environment. If you’re looking to nurture your self-care practice, then finding solace in writing might just be what you need.
Writing doesn’t have to be poetic to be a beautiful experience. As long as it connects you to your inner self, then it has served its true purpose.
What do you think? Are you ready to start your self-care journal? Have you learned something new from this article? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Writer and counseling psychology student. Firm believer of validating one’s feelings, prioritizing the inner-self, and finding happiness in a plate of chicken curry.