Journaling is a tool I’ll often use to download and solidify ideas that come to me after I take walks or workout (that’s a prime time for inspiration to flood in and I don’t want to forget an idea!) and helps me organize my spider-web of thoughts into something concrete and actionable.
And other times, I just need to get all the junk out of my head so I can hear my true thoughts! If you’ve done The Artist’s Way, you know all about this idea of Morning Pages — freely writing whatever is in your mind.
I’ll also recommend this practice to my clients. Journaling helps you tap into your feelings, hidden beliefs, and patterns to process emotions and heal traumas, organize your thoughts, and manifest your desires.
It also opens up the analytical, left-brain part of your mind and is especially helpful if you’re in chaos and need to invite structure back in.
In short: journaling is pretty magical! Fast Company shares a few physical benefits of daily journaling as well as the mental ones we all know and love. (There are tons more resources and links – just google “journaling” and a rabbit hole of information opens up!)
There is a lot we can’t control, but we can control our emotions and our response to stimuli in the world. The first thing, though, is understanding how you feel about it.
Journaling allows you to process in ways that you may not be able to express aloud to another person (or even your dog if just hearing yourself saying it causes stress, anxiety, and grief to appear).
When you’re experiencing anxiety, your journal will be your best friend. Instead of lashing out at another person (or your dog), writing down your exact emotions will diffuse their powerful energy. It’s like taking a few deep breaths, except now, you’re exploring why you had that reaction in the first place.
As Viktor Frankl writes, “Between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Pretty soon, you’ll be able to look back and see patterns of what triggers you, thus allowing you to pause for a longer time between stimulus and reaction and choose another response.
In the pages of your journal, you can explore what’s hurt you and find possibilities for forgiveness to advance past those old wounds. This will be especially beneficial if your current stress is dredging up old stories you had repressed and not fully processed.
Diving in and doing deep work to explore what’s caused your anxiety to spike or your depression to resurface may be painful in the moment, but will ultimately help you release these traumas so you are no longer shackled to their pain. Here’s a forgiveness practice you may want to explore in your journal!
With all the despair and dark emotions I’ve been talking about, I’d be remiss not to mention the more positive aspects of journaling! Journaling is not a Pollyanna band-aid where you suddenly decide everything is great and ignore melancholy feelings.
But after a while, like with a gratitude practice, you’ll automatically look for the brighter side of situations, even those that could have triggered a negative feedback loop if you hadn’t started to explore your impulses.
How did you feel when you woke up this morning?
When did you last feel stress, anxiety, or grief? What caused those feelings?
When in the past have you felt stress, anxiety, or grief? How did you move through those feelings before?
What can I do in this moment to be kind to myself?
What is going well in my life?
What is one thing I have avoided doing in my life? Why could I possibly have avoided it?
How would I like to feel every day? What is one thing I can do right now to bring that feeling into my current daily routine?
What would I like to thank my stress, anxiety, or grief for teaching me?
The story I’m telling myself right now is…
What is the payoff of allowing myself to feel this stress, anxiety, or grief? Is it possible that I am clinging to that payoff as part of my identity, even if it isn’t serving me?
Now, take a few minutes to reflect on what you wrote. Don’t edit yourself, just pause and breathe into the feelings. Think about:
Reflecting back will allow you to notice patterns and move through stress, anxiety, and grief as Frankl says with a pause between stimuli and response.
In this process, you aren’t pushing negative feelings to the side. You’re actively exploring and sitting with your feelings. As everyone says, “It’s okay not to be okay.” I’d take that one step further: It’s okay not to be okay, though it isn’t okay to ignore how you feel.
Finding a journaling practice will help you control your impulses, choose more supportive reactions in the future, heal your trauma, explore your emotions, and find the brighter things to reflect on (along with the great ways it’ll help balance your emotions and physically improve your life)!
Do you have a journaling practice? How does it help you process your emotions and find alignment?