If you follow this blog, you probably know that I’ve previously written about the benefits of keeping a journal. It’s a really useful way to gauge our own mental health, work through issues, and even unleash creativity. I’ve been journaling daily for a couple of years now, and have found the process both cathartic and deeply gratifying, especially during lockdown.
Now is the perfect time to start keeping a journal. It’s a tool that can help ease you through lockdown, however long it takes. While it can help make sense of what’s happening right now, it can also help you get in touch with your hopes for the future.
There’s no one “journal kit” of course. It could be your computer, an app like Journify, or a good old-fashioned notebook…whatever gets the job done. I like using my laptop as I sometimes cut and paste things that I’ve written into other material, but the choice is completely yours. Just choose a medium that you know you will enjoy.
If it’s a notebook, consider treating yourself to a new, beautiful one just for the occasion, so that you’ll really enjoy using it. Maybe even some nice pens too. The other thing to say is that while the focus is on writing, a physical notebook means that you can doodle, draw, make diagrams, or even stick bits and pieces you’ve found in magazines or newspapers. A computer means that you can cut and paste emails, things you’ve found on the internet, or include links to something inspiring or that touches a nerve.
Setting aside a regular time to journal helps make it a habit. What works best for you? If in the morning, you can include snatches of your dreams perhaps, or your plans for the day. In the evening, you can use your writing to make sense of things that have happened during the day, as well as a ritual to help you unwind.
In fact, making journaling into a ritual can make it something to really look forward to. This could mean sitting down with a mug of coffee and hot buttered toast first thing in the morning, and getting out your journal. Or snuggling up in bed with a hot water bottle and pouring your thoughts out last thing at night. You don’t have to book end your day though. As it’s lockdown, we may be able to take an afternoon break to journal when we start to feel that mid-afternoon slump, or take some time out mid-morning when you’ve got a bit of work under your belt. Experiment if you’re not quite sure what would work right now.
The “How To”
There are a few ways to journal. You can do choose one, or combine them in a long journaling session.
- Free form
This is where you just write. Popularised by Julia Cameron in the Artist’s Way, it is often used to bring creative urges to the surface, as well as a therapeutic tool. Write whatever comes to you, in longhand, for at least three pages. At first it may be trite, things like “have I paid the phone bill this month?”, for instance. Soon, things will start flowing. Thoughts about what’s going on, ponderings on your relationships, what you might do next, even mood fluctuations that day. The beauty of this is that you cannot do it wrong. Try not to edit yourself (these journals are for your eyes only) and don’t give up if you think it’s only gobbledegook coming out. There’s sure to be gems in there eventually.If you’ve always fancied writing a novel and don’t know how to get your writing practice started, this is a marvellous way to do that.
- Structured writing
You can also journal in a more structured way, letting questions provoke you to consider your life right now, and in the future. Answering the same questions day after day once again helps you gauge and follow your moods. It also reminds us that we are complicated beings, and that what we wanted on Monday may suddenly feel distasteful on Friday…and that’s normal!You can make up your own questions, but here are some you might like to include:
What one small thing do I want to achieve today?/What was my main achievement today?
What’s important to me right now?
What five things an I grateful for today?
What have I learned that can help me get through this (and future stress)?
What do I want life to look like post-lockdown?
What can I do now to move towards my goals post-lockdown?
- Creative flow
In addition to writing, you can also mix in audio files, video recordings, photographs, drawings, pressed leaves or flowers, etc, if you want to create something you can revisit in years to come.If you have a family, you can encourage family members to keep their own journals, and share the best bits through weekly readings.After all, journaling is really is such a rich, deep practice that anyone and everyone can benefit.