So journaling. You know, sitting down with a notebook, writing whatever pops into your head? Simple enough right? Journaling is one of my absolute favorite hobbies and ways to de-stress. It’s free and you can do it anywhere. I think it’s kinda cool to sit down to a blank page, and not really know where it is going to end up.
Obviously, through my work on this site I end up doing a lot of writing. But I still find myself itching to sit down and journal. With no goals. No expectations.
And turns out, I’ve found many benefits of doing so.
I dabble in a few different kinds of journaling. I have notebooks throughout the house that I can pick up and jot down a few notes or sit down to write out a longer thought. I also have two word docs saved on my computer. One is titled “light journal” and the other “dark journal”.
Why I Have a “Dark” Journal
I am now a big emotions guy, and have worked hard to get there. For I long time I avoided expressing negative emotions like anger. Understand that I was certainly feeling some anger, but not outwardly. In college, when I first started experiencing daily pain, I was grumpy. Like real grumpy. I call those “my gremlin years.” I was in pain daily and I had a case of lost identity after quitting soccer. The grumpiness was understandable, yes. But likeable? No. A good way to make new friends? Definitely not.
I picked up on that eventually and got pretty tired of being called, “standoffish” and “bitchy”. Anyone who knows me now would probably be surprised that that used to be a common first impression. People now often describe me as “kind” or “calm”. Part of that is because I really do try to be nice. I care about people. But another part of that is that I became a master at stuffing my anger and pain deep inside.
Embracing all of my emotions was a tough learn.
Unfortunately, just because I stopped being outwardly angry, did not mean tough things stopped coming my way. People did wrong by me. I messed up. Life still happened. I now know that all of that pent up negative emotion catches up with you, even if it’s via fatigue or ongoing pain. It really is healthier to just let it out in a productive way.
For that reason, I have a “dark” journal where I write out my deepest, darkest thoughts. I use it to express anger- past or present. I use it to vent. I use it to work through negative emotions I am having towards my work, relationships, or anything else that pops into my head.
As you can imagine, I don’t really want to share these thoughts with anyone else, and that’s the beauty of it. After I’m finished, I delete everything I just wrote, so it’s a blank slate every time I open it. This gives me the freedom to talk about things that I don’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone. It is amazing how much lighter I feel after.
Why I have a “light” journal
My “light” journal is more permanent. I hop to the end to write a new reflection on the day or an event. Or I might revisit something from earlier in my journal. It is amazing how many beautiful details you can recall this way that otherwise would have been lost. Aside from general memories and reflections of the day, here I express gratitude, joyful moments, and things other people said or did that I enjoyed. It’s all really heartwarming to look back on!
Journal Your Way
I think of journaling kind of like meditating. It almost seems too simple to be a thing to do. Like give me more instructions please?? I think with practice though, you will learn to embrace the unknown and grow into the places that journaling takes you.
You can also find many journal prompts on the wide world of the interweb or you can buy one with ‘em built in for you. Find whatever works for you! It might be variety of modes, but the point is to express what’s on your mind and work through your emotions in a more healthy and present way.
Here is an outline of seven ways that I have found journaling to help me reduce my stress:
1. Helps ME express gratitude
If you’ve even dipped your toe into the wellness pool, you’ve heard about the importance of gratitude. I used to feel a flutter of an eye roll when I read such things. It is a helpful tool to shift my brain from the negativity that can be so easy to fall into when living with pain. Expressing daily gratitude also allows me to dive even deeper. I can easily rattle of basic things like my sweet little dog, my family, my friends. But journaling about gratitude has helped me look deeper on important things I have like access to regular healthcare and the financial freedom to attempt different treatment modalities.
2. Allows ME to effectively + privately express negative emotions
Let’s flip the script here. Being grateful is so important. But so is being pissed. It’s normal to get mad, frustrated, or even straight outraged. It comes with the territory of living with chronic pain. Well, truth. It comes with the territory of being human. Anger, fear and sadness are considered negative emotions, but they only become toxic when they are trapped inside and allowed to fester. Write it down, then let it go. That’s what I do at least. And it feels good.
3. Helps ME cope with unwanted thoughts
Along that same line, journaling allows me to express and explore those lingering thoughts that keep popping up and causing a raucous. You know that good feeling that comes along after you confide in someone and finally tell a part of your story? Like a weight is lifted off your shoulders, right? I use my journal as a sounding board for those thoughts that seem a little too dark, or ones that I am not comfortable sharing with anyone yet.
4. Helps ME remember details of happy memories
As mentioned above this is one of my favorite things about journaling. Our brains are amazing and powerful, but they can only hold on to so much information. Looking back at journal entries from a happy trip or event can be so fun and allow you to relive the experience in a way that you couldn’t otherwise. One of my favorite Podcasts, Mortified, made a business out of people sharing their childhood diaries and this is a hilarious illustration of my point. Memories can be fleeting. Make the important ones stick and you won’t regret it.
5. Better understanding of my emotions
Journaling is something I use to help me figure out why I might be feeling a little “off” one day. Or why I might be ticked off by every little thing. Or why a certain someone just seems so annoying all of the sudden. Journaling is like putting a magnifying glass on my emotions really allowing me to “feel my feelings.”
6. Helps ME cope with stressful events
One important thing to realize is that stress will never stop being a part of any of our lives. Bad things will never stop happening. Pain will still be there. It’s all part of the human experience. What’s important is how you deal when faced with adversity. Journaling has helped me cope with loss: of a relationship, a job, and of loved ones. Do not suffer in silence.
7. personal growth + getting to know the real me
Journaling is a form of personal expression and a great way to access your subconscious mind. It helps me to identify deep-rooted beliefs or thought patterns that may be holding me back or having a negative impact on my physical and mental health.
So, in summary journaling is the bee’s knees (what does that even mean?).
Try to do a little bit daily, even if it’s just jotting down a few things you are grateful for that day. Try to put aside 15 minutes a three times a week to really allow yourself to dive deeper and see where it takes you. There is no right or wrong way.