If you kept a diary when you were younger, it may have been a place for you to vent your frustrations or express your deepest secrets. When you wrote in that diary, you may have felt a sense of relief.
Many people keep diaries or journals when they are younger, but put them down once they become adults. That’s a shame because whether you are 14 or 50, keeping a diary can help you improve your mental wellbeing.
Journaling can help you better understand your feelings, allow you to explore thoughts and ideas safely, work out anxiety, and sometimes put things into perspective. That’s some powerful self-care for someone who is struggling.
How Can Keeping a Diary Help Me?
Writing To Work Through Negative Emotions and Trauma
When you keep a diary, you give yourself a way to better deal with negative emotions. That’s perfect if you are suffering from stress, depression, or anxiety. You can write in a journal to:
- Track your mental health symptoms on a daily basis.
- Identify your triggers.
- Clarify your fears and traumas.
- Shine a spotlight on toxic thoughts and behaviors.
- Explore traumatic or stressful events from a new perspective.
- Use a creative expression to get your feelings out.
- Encourage you to write about your blessings and positive experiences.
All of this can give you a clearer picture of the factors that are contributing to your mental health struggles. Once you are empowered with that knowledge, you can begin working on the solutions.
Using Your Diary To Plan for and Execute Healthier Life Choices
Of course, keeping a diary isn’t just about helping you to fix the negative. You can also use this as a tool to create and maintain positive habits. Use your diary to:
- Create goals and plans to reach them.
- Write about your accomplishments.
- Hold yourself accountable without engaging in negative self-talk.
- Evaluate the changes you are making.
You may find that writing things down provides additional motivation, and gives you a feeling of accountability. Try making things even more concrete by writing down time periods and limits. For example, ‘I will go on a walk five days this week.’
Keeping a Diary for Creative Expression
Imagine that you are struggling with anxiety over an upcoming event. You find yourself perseverating on it, and your worry keeps increasing. So, you pull out your diary and write a fictional story about that experience. In the story, you are the main character. Scratch that, you are the hero. As the plot unfolds, all the things you imagine going wrong do. The difference is that in the story your character is able to handle everything calmly, solve problems, and ask for help when needed.
If you feel a sense of relief after writing something like that, you aren’t alone. Creative writing allows you to express feelings, explore things, and work your way through a variety of real or imagined scenarios that are upsetting to you. It has even been shown to help people who struggle with severe mental illness.
How Will I Feel if I Keep a Diary
This will vary from person to person. Some people may find the practice immediately and intensely valuable. Others may have to warm up to it a bit. Here are some of the positive results that people report:
- An overall sense of wellbeing.
- Fewer intrusive or traumatic thoughts.
- Reduce stress and anxiety prior to important events.
- Mood improvement.
- A more positive outlook.
How Should I Journal?
Writing in a diary is like exercising. Doing something is better than nothing, but you won’t get your best results with a haphazard approach. You don’t need to be perfect, but keep in mind that this is a therapeutic activity with the potential to really improve your life. Try to follow these guidelines:
- Create a dedicated space for writing that is private and doesn’t have distractions.
- Invest in a nice diary, along with a comfortable pen of good quality.
- Make an effort to write each day.
- Follow up your writing with some time of reflection, even if that’s just taking a short walk.
- Don’t push yourself into writing about traumatic things until you are ready.
- There is no wrong way to format a diary entry.
This is important. Plan to keep your diary to yourself. There may be times when you believe that ‘sharing’ a diary entry will help someone better understand you. If so, work on ways to communicate yourself. Once you allow other people to read your diary, you open it up to criticism, defensiveness, and unasked for analysis. This could lead you to edit yourself in unhealthy ways. Remind yourself that this diary is your thoughts, your perspective, and your feelings.
Of course, writing tends to lead to more writing. Click here to learn more about getting help with rewriting and other processes to make your creativity suitable for new audiences. Something you record in your diary could become the inspiration for writing you do want to share with others.
Here are a few more tips that can help you keep journaling when the process seems tiring, stressful, or just boring:
- Don’t worry about proofreading or editing.
- Challenge yourself — Set a timer and write as much as possible.
- Play around with your writing format — Write poems, lists, word clouds, short stories, letters, and illustrations.
- When you have spare time, make a bunch of writing prompts. Use these when you cannot think of something to write.
Just keep in mind that your diary should be a reflection or exploration of yourself.
Conclusion: Write With a Purpose
Don’t treat this as a brain dump. Be conscientious about the topics you choose. Think about your topic before you write. Figure out what you want to get out of the experience. Writing can be difficult. Set a goal for writing, maybe five minutes at first, then set a timer. Remember that you are trying to create a habit. Read what you’ve written, and identify your takeaway. This is an observational statement about something the entry has revealed to you. For example, “I’m noticing I’m feeling a lot of intense anger since I lost my job.” At this point, you can decide to create a plan of action to work on that, to leave the issue alone, or to explore it further the next time you write.
Jessica Fender is a professional writer and educational blogger at GetGoodGrade, an aggregator for useful college resources and websites. Jessica enjoys sharing her ideas to make writing and learning fun.