I have been that adolescent girl who wrote all the words I didn’t dare say out loud. I am also that almost 30 year old woman who journals and again, writes words that I still don’t speak of.

I’m sure reading this you are either one of three people: the one who eagerly pours your soul into your leather bound journal with your favourite quote embossed across the cover, the one who makes a new year’s resolution to begin journaling but the excitement doesn’t last, or, you’re the one who simply does not “get” journaling. (For the latter group, starting an entry with: “dear diary” is probably going to make you feel ridiculous hence, today’s date will suffice!)

Sure, we all can put words on a page and call it coping, but is journaling actually helpful?

It CAN be.

I don’t want to make anyone put down their favourite pen; it is not my intention to get you to stop writing, but to rethink what you’re writing about and why.

First of all, if you’re in a negative nelly mindset- that’s okay, we all have been stuck there before.

Which reminds me of my journal at age 12, it being my only outlet for the daily catastrophes that rhymed with puberty. It was definitely an outlet for me to vent and be who I perceived as the “real” me…but in all honesty, writing about being fat and ugly did not boost my mood or self-esteem, and I bet yours wouldn’t either.

Journaling while in this mindset can still be helpful if you set a time limit on your rants. 15 minutes max!

I find moving on to be the most difficult part. Putting the pen down and pushing these irritations aside is always easier said than done, especially for someone like me who tends to ruminate relentlessly.

Ask yourself, “What can I do in this moment to feel better?” and go with it. It might be writing about three things you are grateful for or what went well in your day (research shows this does help!) and let yourself get immersed in that as well. Your brain will likely be confused initially because it’s like, “no, I am ANGRY, and appreciating life at a time like this feels wrong”. This is to be expected. So, come up with a list of what you can do right now, then pick one and force yourself to do something, even if it’s just a pleasant distraction.

Onto re-reading journal entries: my recommendation is not to do it until the excitement has calmed down, you can think rationally and are able to objectively reflect on the experience.

Key word is reflect.

Journaling is most helpful when you are able to derive meaning or insight out of your internal chaos. This might mean asking yourself questions: “what was it about this situation that made me so angry?” or “how could I have coped differently?”

Anyone can write words on paper, but the real trick is to learn from your words.

Finally…

If you don’t learn anything more than how many times you can curse in one sentence, then I highly recommend a paper shredder.

About the Author

Tara Richardson is a Peer Support Specialist at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby, Ontario. Her own personal journey through mental illness has led her to be a passionate and dedicated advocate for mental health recovery. Tara is an aspiring author who is in the (long) process of writing and editing her memoir compiled from journal entries beginning at age 11. Tara has a B.A. in Psychology, a diploma in Social Service Work, and a certificate in Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Tara can be contacted at: tara_richardson913@hotmail.com Non-creepy fan mail gladly welcomed.