Dear Diary…

By Alissa Naydenova

Dear Diary, today at school I got an A in English, and Stacy sat with me at lunch. It was awesome!

If you kept a diary in middle school, it probably sounded something like this, scribbled in big childish letters on a glittery pink Hello Kitty notepad, not to be stereotypical or anything. If you don’t know what I am talking about, that also means you missed the humbling experience of rereading such entries years later, mercilessly judging the naïveté of your ten-year-old self. Nevertheless, whether or not you had a diary, and as embarrassing as it might have felt to revisit those old thoughts, it is time to dive back in. 

You may have caught a glimpse of the new trend on social media: diaries for grown-ups – also called journals. The start of 2024 sparked quite a wholesome and healthy trend on social media, pushing people to start journaling more. I say ‘healthy’ because the purpose of journals is to help people cope with daily struggles, from stress and anxiety to depression. Especially when seeing a therapist is not an option, it is a great way to start improving your mental health. We all feel alone at times. Everyone around us is busy, and the one person we tell everything to is not picking up the phone, so chatting – specifically moaning for two hours about every problem in our life – is not possible. Enters the journal, that notebook you have been saving for years, not knowing what to write in it.

You might believe you do not need to get anything off your chest because you have ‘got it all under control.’ Think again. You would be  lying if you said you have never felt overwhelmed or stressed; we all have. Journaling helps you get all those problems and fears out of your head and on paper, making them easier to face. While this seems straightforward, there are various other merits to explore, depending on the type of journaling.

The two main categories are expressive writing and gratitude journaling. The first, expertly designated as an “emotional catharsis” – a fancy expression for venting – is fundamentally a stream of consciousness. You write down your thoughts as they come into your mind to improve your “cognitive processing,” meaning you learn to understand what triggered you in a particular situation and why. It can take the form of a sketch journal, where you doodle away your feelings or a day’s events chronical, focusing on how you were affected by various experiences throughout the day.

The second style of journaling revolves around boosting positivity. It can be a gratitude journal, where you put into writing what you are thankful for; a fitness journal, keeping you committed to an active lifestyle; or even a food journal, prompting you to be more sensible about what you eat. No matter the format, the idea is to create a  space that helps you be more mindful, thus improving your mood in the long run.

I get the scepticism you might be feeling, but as the saying goes, “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” Pick a type of journaling that suits you and start writing. The worst possible outcome is you’ll waste a few minutes and a sheet of paper. To help jump-start your journaling era, here are a few tips from one of America’s leading academic medical centres, the University of Rochester:

  1. Make it a habit. Try journaling as regularly as possible, just for a few minutes daily.
  2. Make it as easy as you can. Putting pen to paper is always a good and simple way to reflect without having distractions. However, we all have busy schedules, so using a journaling app on your phone is also an option. You can set your quotidian goals during your morning commute and get all negative thoughts out of your mind on your way home. 
  3. Make it yours. Different types of journaling suit different people. Draw, write, be messy, be organized: do what puts your mind at ease. There are no rules. 

Daunting or useless, with January over, use the shortest month of the year to try something new. Perhaps some specific prompts will finally spark your interest, so consider how you might answer some of these questions:

What was the most formative experience of your life? Who were you ten years ago? How late did you stay up last night and why? Who do you love and why? What colour is your life right now?

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