Maybe you received a new journal as a gift this holiday season. Or maybe you bought one during a late night online pandemic induced session of retail therapy. Either way, now it sits. Like those unread books on our shelves, you eye one another warily as you walk by it. You’re overwhelmed by its blank pages and possibilities, especially if this is your first journal ever, or even if it’s your first journal in a very long time. “What’s the point of journaling? Why should I bother?” Well that’s why I’m here!
I’ve been journaling for longer than I can remember, even before I discovered Little Women when I was 11 years old and decided that Jo March was my spirit animal. Yes, back then I had “diaries” with tiny locks on their sides, which I believed kept my writings safe from my mother’s nosy eyes (they did not), and said “writings” were just literal accounts of my days at school. (Appropriate for a “diary” since the term loosely means ‘a log book of daily events’). Back then, most of my diaries were from my aunt, my mother’s sister, and were as treasured by me as my collection of Nancy Drew books and stuffed animals!
I transitioned from diaries to journaling in my teens, not at all coincidental given how tumultuous even the average teen’s life can be! This meant that my diary was now my ‘log book’ of personal experiences and feelings, not just daily events. It was my place to turn with details of a new crush, or more often than not, when my mother wasn’t doing well with her major depression and anxiety disorder. Journaling has helped me through more in my 45 years than I can begin to tell you about here, even when I didn’t think there was anything or anyone that could. It’s also the only form of writing I have stuck with consistently since I was 11 and decided I was going to be a writer! (That’s a story for another time).
Now, let’s all address the (masked) pink elephant in the room with us right now, shall we? Yes, I’m looking at you 2020! Unfortunately, even though we are more than ready to kick 2020 to the curb and welcome 2021 with open arms, many of 2020’s challenges aren’t going anywhere any time soon. So, in the meantime, we not only have to find better coping mechanisms for dealing with things like fear, anxiety and stress, we also have to take time to look at our lives to see and appreciate all of the good that’s still here! No matter what, there’s always good, and you can find it if you want to. (I do). This is where journaling comes in! Plus if you’re a writer and totally stuck (because 2020), journaling can help your writing too.
Five Ways Journaling Improves Your Daily Life:
Journaling Provides a Safe and Judgment-Free Zone
2020 has overwhelmed each and every one of us, in both similar and different ways, leaving many dynamics of our daily lives in full-on upheaval. Maybe you don’t want to feel like you’re burdening someone else with whatever 2020 is forcing you to go through right now, because everyone (family, friends, acquaintances, strangers) is also worn down. And let’s be honest, sometimes the last place you want to go is social media where instead of finding comfort and support, you’re bombarded with people telling you ‘you’re lucky things aren’t worse for you, stop complaining and suck it up we’re all in the same boat, look on the bright side…’ Or maybe you just don’t personally know anyone who can relate to or empathize with exactly what you’re going through. Maybe you just need to vent and don’t need a response.
This is where your journal comes in. Write it out. All of it. The fears, the anger, the anxiety, the fatigue, whatever it is. Let it out on the page. It isn’t always easy to do, especially when you’re super stressed or upset, but you’ll definitely feel better afterwards.
Journaling Helps You De-Stress and Re-Focus
Speaking of feeling better afterwards: Venting and de-stressing aren’t always the same thing. You’re having a rough day from the time you wake up tired and out of sorts. You have doctor’s appointments this week you can’t cancel, but the appliance repair company cancelled on you, the borough garbage truck took out part of your fence (again!), you still have to go through that stack of yesterday’s mail and you have an article to finish. Oh and there’s this thing called covid-19 always in the back of your mind now. You can’t get anything done because you just can’t focus!
Stop. Take in and release out a deep breath. Now write it all out into your journal. As you come to the end of what you feel is piling up on you, you’ll find yourself feeling more calm and find your mind clearing. Now you can look things over with a new perspective. Then you can write down your plan (or list) to handle whatever you’re able to that day, and figure out what can be done tomorrow.
Journaling Helps You Stay Present
Speaking of focus: Too often we’re so focused on what comes next (or we’re too focused on what’s already behind us) that we don’t give much thought about the present. Today. This moment. Right here, right now. Journaling helps you slow down and notice what’s going on with you right now, inside your mind, body and heart, inside and outside your home.
Are you comfortable where you’re sitting down to journal or does your back hurt? (Is this your usual back pain or something new?) Write it down. Are you still feeling uplifted after an online chat with your best friends or are you missing them? Write it down. Is your cat purring in her sleep on the couch? Write it down. What’s the weather like? Write it down. Did a bright red cardinal land in the tree outside your window at the moment you were thinking about your nana? Write it down. Do the holiday twinkle lights stand out as the sun sets and everything turns dusky blue? Write it down. Did you go from ugly crying to laughing out loud because you pulled “well done” gingerbread cookies out of the oven instead of the IG worthy ones you were hoping for? Write it down.
These kinds of details help ground you in the present moment, and help you appreciate the here and now.
Journaling Helps You When the World Is Falling Apart
As with Darth Vader or Kylo Ren, “there is good in him.”* It’s the same case with 2020 and our lives amid a pandemic, no matter how stressful or frightening things may be. True, this year has left most of us like a deer caught in head-lights, but if we take some time and narrow down our focus (yup, there’s that word again) to just our own lives, instead of the overwhelming world-at-large, we can turn our attention to all of the good things in our lives that have been overshadowed by 2020.
Write down everything you’re thankful for: Your family. Your friends. Your pets. Unexpected help from others just when you needed it. The 47 rolls of toilet paper under your bathroom sink. The list will go on and on once you get started. (I don’t want you to literally count your blessings, I want you to appreciate them). Write down everything that is going right for you: Your job. Having a place to call home (even if you don’t own it). A vehicle that’s running. The ability to help others by donating time or money. Whatever it is, write it down. Then look back over what you’ve written and you’ll see how much light there is in darkness.
*Apologies to those of you who aren’t Star Wars fans for this SW reference!
Journaling Helps Your Writing
I mentioned earlier that journaling is the only form of writing I have stuck with consistently since I was 11 when I decided I was going to be a writer. This isn’t the way I thought my writing life would go, of course, but here we are. I’ve been side-lined by things like my mother’s lifelong mental health struggles, my own nearly lifelong debilitating (physical) health struggles, relationships, bills, you know, life in general. But throughout all of it, I kept journaling. I also make notes of any nonfiction and fiction story ideas that come to mind and flag those pages with book darts so I can always go back to them. I write about writing. (Or I write about not writing, as the case may be). I write about how an idea I started isn’t working and how I may be able to work my way through it. I write about when it’s time to let an idea go. Then I write about the next idea. I will never forget the emotional day I wrote in my journal after I decided my main character would be disabled like me. (No,that was not an easy decision for me, to say the very least). The point is: Journaling keeps me writing and writing about writing.
There’s no one right way to journal. Journaling can be whatever you need it to be, and you can do it in whatever way works best for you. You can have multiple journals for different topics, or it can be your all-in-one place for everything I’ve talked about here and more. (For me, journaling also helps me manage anxiety and my ever changing physical challenges). Yes, the possibilities are indeed endless, but the most important thing is this: If you feel compelled to journal, then just begin. Begin and figure out whatever works best for you when it comes to journaling so you can make your daily life even better.
Jo Wnorowski’s lifelong passion for reading started before preschool, and writing followed suit at eleven when she discovered Little Women. Now she’s in her mid 40s and a stay at home wife due to the advanced auto-immune diseases Rheumatoid Disease and Ankylosing Spondylitis, as well as chronic migraine, which affect every aspect of her physical health and daily life, and she is immuno-compromised as well. She loves all things fiction books, journaling, yarn, fall and snow. When she’s not a constipated writer, you can find her at The Eclectic Spoonie or on her social media happy place, Instagram. Jo and her amazingly supportive Marine Veteran husband live in NJ.