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Journalling - how to make it work for you

What's the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the word 'journal'? Having had my eyes on academic texts for the last few years it sightly makes me wince at the thought of research and Harvard Referencing but no... not that kind of journal. It also makes me think of my 11 year old self, writing 'Dear Diary...' at the top of each page and writing about whatever poster I'd put on my wall from that week's Smash Hits magazine (I'm outing my age range there I'm sure). When I talk about journalling now I'm really thinking about recording my thoughts and feelings as a way to process them, thinking about questions I want the answers to and as an account of my history that I may or may not ever look back on. I recently had the onerous task of emptying my loft, and in the process found my diaries from around the age of 15-16. There was all the usual teenage talk of who had fallen out with whom, which people I had a crush on and what the slightly creepy humanities teacher had said that was out of turn on any particular day. There were also hints of just how sad I was, and in the later ones, processing of my first counselling experiences and how it helped me deal with that sadness. It was a reminder that this work started then, and many years on I hope that I can offer that opportunity to the people that come through my door.

I tend to write the most when I'm struggling, and can often go weeks without even lifting a pen, but journals can be used for so much more than just the difficult times, and there are so many more ways to record things than just writing than account of your day. Here are some other ways you can try:-

  • Free writing - set a timer and just write whatever comes into your head. It doesn't have to make any logical sense but you'll find the words just flow and you might find out things you didn't know were in there

  • Work with journal prompts - I'll include some examples below and there are more on my social media - but a quick Google will show you hundreds of ideas for questions to ask yourself as a starting point

  • Art - you don't have to be an artist. Doodling, painting and sketching can be really useful in providing imagery to show how you're feeling or just as a mindfulness activity

  • Try poetry - using words in this way can hep you express things in new ways

  • Scrap booking - picking up different items, articles and images that relate to what you're going through can be really powerful. I'll often print off affirmations and memes that I find useful

  • Using different mediums. For me it's a pretty notepad and a comfortable pen. For you it might be voice notes on your phone, post-it notes or a sketch book. Record your thoughts in whichever way feels most helpful to you

There is no right or wrong way to journal. Some people find it comes really naturally and for others it feels really alien. It can be quite difficult to start, not knowing what to write or not having explored your thoughts and feelings in any way before. There are no rules. It is yours to work with however you need to. One thing I would say is important is to be mindful of your privacy. You may not want other people to access it, so keep it in a safe place where that won't be a worry for you.

Here are some prompts I have found useful in the past when I've struggled to know were to begin.

Gratitude Prompts

  • What are 3 things that have made me smile today?

  • Who are 3 people in my life, past or present, who have had a positive impact on me and why?

  • How have I made a positive impact on someone today?

Reflection Prompts

  • If I could change one thing I did in the past, what would it be and why?

  • What have I learnt about myself today? How can I use this to benefit myself and others around me?

  • When do I feel happiest? Where am I and who am I with?

  • If I could talk to myself 5/10 years ago (pick an age), what would I have wanted to know?

Emotion Handling Prompts

  • How do I feel in this moment? Does it feel good or bad, or somewhere in between? What made me feel like this?

  • What challenges did I face today? How did I handle them? What did I do well and what could I do better next time?

  • When do I feel safe? What makes me feel safe in this situation? When do I feel unsafe? What do I do when I feel unsafe?

There are so many other questions you can ask yourself. They may come as a result of a situation you find yourself in or during therapy, but stay curious. Try not to judge yourself for anything that may come up, this is an exploration to help you get to know yourself better, to identify things that might be holding you back and remind yourself of your strengths. All of your feelings are valid and have a place. If you find yourself struggling with anything that comes up as you journal, reach out for support. That might be a trusted friend, partner or relative that can listen and reassure you or a therapist if you feel you want trained support.

Happy journalling!

Sam x

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