Here’s the Thing About Journaling

Written By Jor-El Caraballo

Journaling is often touted as a first line strategy to help us understand and process our thoughts and emotions, but I’ve noticed a trend as to why it’s not for everyone…pressure.

For most of us, the relationship that we have with journaling is the relationship we have with writing. I enjoy writing and there are, of course, many people who write on some level professionally. I would argue that most of those people write because they enjoy it. But for everyone else, most people only encounter any writing (especially expressive writing) in their school experiences. Whether you get deep into academic writing or just so happen to take a creative writing course here or there, creating in this way is all about participating…and then evaluation.

The Pressure on Writing

I think this is, in part, what makes journaling so difficult for so many people. In my professional work, I have clients who journal and some who avoid it altogether even though they realize its benefits for mental health. Of course, we don’t always do things that are helpful to us even though we know the benefits, and individual differences make up a big part of that rationale. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that many clients feel pressured to have their journaling end up in some particular way. That’s a lot of pressure to be perfect – to have things turn out “just so.”

For some, they want the journaling to help be the one thing to solve the problem they’re writing about. It’s not good enough, or worth it, just to create space to process the feelings. For others, they feel a great deal of pressure to write a certain way even if the journal is only for themselves. They crave sounding smart and competent, even though feelings are quite messy by nature. Some people think that journaling isn’t a “success” unless they have some life-changing aha moment (this experience is super rare anyway). I’ve also encountered clients who feel pressured to show and share their entries in therapy – waiting for affirmation, even if that kind of sharing wasn’t part of the plan.

Needless to say, journaling, while simple, is also really complicated.

Nontraditional Journaling Ideas to Try

Personally, journaling is something that I enjoy doing but, as many other things, it’s not quite for everyone and that’s OK. I think that if any of the above scenarios sound familiar to things you’ve thought or felt as you tried journaling, consider how you might make the practice work better for you. We know have so many options to consider these days, especially if you look at digital options. Here are some non-traditional options that you might use to “journal” that I think take off a great deal of pressure:

  • Try bullet journaling rather than a “Dear Journal” approach
  • Create a Pinterest board that actually reflects your mood or feelings about something (rather than your next design project)
  • Make a playlist that you feel adequately captures your feelings
  • Track your mood with a personal meme calendar in which you pick a meme per day to reflect on that day
  • Try the GLAD method to further reflect on gratitude
  • Create a “collection” in Instagram of posts that best reflect your week

Journaling should not be hard, especially if the purpose for you is to simply track your mood, thoughts and feelings. Try and find a method what works for you, whether that means you do it daily, weekly or more sporadically (like I do). Happy writing!

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