The most frequently asked question I get is, “how do you fill up your journals so quickly?” I often merely answer, “I have a lot to write about” and that is very true. I have endless thoughts, I fill pages of images and collages that inspire me or express what I feel at the moment, but mostly words. Now, I claim no expertise on managing stress and anxiety, and speak only from experience on how journaling, since the day I started writing, was my way to cope. More often than not, it allowed me to clear my head long enough to sleep. Journaling was a salve to deep wounds, it got me through difficult and sometimes dark times.
I originally wanted to address this subject through a video, but I feel it’s better done in the way I know best – with the written word. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in October 2016, but I feel like it went undiagnosed for many years before. It wasn’t until September and October of 2016 when it affected me so badly, I finally sought professional help. My counselor and I discussed different techniques of managing all these emotions – one being my love for journaling. I share this with you because I hope this reaches out to those who may find themselves in need of journaling and don’t know where to start.
When one experiences anxiety and depression, especially together, one feels very alone. I personally didn’t want to burden friends and family with how I felt, thinking it would be too negative for them to hear. That, and I would often get the suggestion to just “think positive thoughts” or “everybody gets stressed or feels down, just snap out of it.” That, as those who do suffer from anxiety/depression know, isn’t as easy as they say. And I thought that perhaps there was something wrong with me, because I was not functioning normally like everybody else.
And so my journal became my way to make sense of what I was feeling and thinking. It helped to clear my head, and most importantly, it allowed me to express thoughts and struggles that I felt uneasy to share with those close to me. So that is what I wish to address now, how writing can help with stress, anxiety and/or depression.* Journaling was my therapy, and I hope in some ways, in can be yours.
First and foremost – do not censor yourself. I often get comments about how people don’t want to remember the negative or bad moments, or only want to keep their journals pretty. Social media is partly to blame for this desire to keep things ‘pretty.’ But it’s important to understand that your notebook is your own, you are in no obligation to share it, and everything inside it is for your eyes only. Journal for yourself. And embrace the fact that what you feel at that moment is very pure, they are a part of you, do not feel ashamed of how it is expressed in your notebook. Never stop yourself from expressing what you think or feel, as that is part of the release of writing. Write those curse words, write without commas and proper sentences. If it’s a page of one big, run-on sentence, if it’s just the same thing repeated over and over again – go with it!
That leads into the technique of stream of consciousness writing. I think it’s interesting how we have become a society that even our thoughts feel like they need to be censored or filtered like social media – there’s this desire to show only the good, the illusion of perfection. And anything that falls short shouldn’t be revealed. But I think that it’s very detrimental for journaling, as it stops us from letting things flow onto paper. Here is where stream of consciousness writing can really help. Even if you just want to practice and set yourself a timer for one minute, three minutes, even half an hour, just sit down with pen and paper and write whatever comes to mind. It may sound stupid at first, what you see revealed onto paper, but it becomes a freeing sensation. You feel hungry, there’s a buzzing sound nearby from the refrigerator, the smell of the fresh air through the window, the soft cat paws upon your arm as they try to get your attention – use your senses to help drive your writing. You’re bored, tired, feeling ill. You wish the neighbors would stop their damn little dog from barking all day. You get the idea. Let yourself just write whatever it is on your mind. Don’t even stop to capitalize letters or use proper sentence structure – don’t go back to edit – just write. And then just leave those pages alone. Try to resist the urge to turn back and reread everything after you’re done. I found that when I was in the height of emotion, sometimes reading what I wrote added to my stress.
Art can be therapeutic, too. There were times when I couldn’t write anymore, either I had no more thoughts left or felt overwhelmed with what I had already written. Times like this, I reached for my art supplies. I took paints and just covered pages in washes of color. I would take stickers and stick them all over the page with no rhyme or reason. Or rip up images I liked from magazines, often images of nature that I find soothing to make them tip-ins. I didn’t think about arrangement, color balance or anything, I just slapped everything into my journal. This helped to distract my mind and gave me something to focus on. By allowing myself to just do and not think, it gave me another way to express what I was feeling. The images sometimes acted as mood boards I was striving to one day feel again.
I made journaling a pleasant ritual. I didn’t just plop myself in any old chair to steal a minute to write. I made sure I had a hot cup of tea on my desk (choose your favorite beverage!), sometimes I would have one of my favorite Jane Austen movies on in the background or my favorite music on, a snack, comfy clothes. Make the environment comfortable, so you are comfortable with your journal. Light some candles, make it hygge, as they say now, go sit on the beach and just write as you listen to the waves crash against the shore, or do it while you and your dog are lying on the floor together. What matters is that you write where you are most yourself. Because that really helps to bring out the honesty in how you feel.
It’s a very simple little change in how we write that can help us get a grip in how we feel. By merely uncensoring ourselves, we can help to release a lot of the pent up stress we so often keep locked away, in order to appear put together. In the privacy of our notebooks, we can be ourselves, our true selves. Let those blank pages be the potential to a clearer mind. The good, the bad, the ugly. That is you.
**These are not revolutionary ideas, just merely techniques I have followed for years that have helped me. Do note that journaling is not always the answer and doesn’t work for everyone; please seek professional help if you show signs of stress, anxiety or depression.