Many people pick up journaling to dive into emotions and dramatic events in their lives. Probably most of us. And there is nothing wrong and everything right with that. In a world where so many listen just enough to identify their turn to talk, a journal makes the perfect sounding board to explore how you think, what you think, and why you think it.
Getting negative emotions down in your journal can be a great step to resolving all of the hurts, depression, and general sadness you have, and to help you work through them to find a positive outcome.
“A journal acts as a free talk therapist, someone you can spill all your feelings too, no matter what, without judgment,” an article at Your Skillful Means tells us. “Using a journal to self-express can relieve anxiety, help you to understand negative emotional triggers, and resolve problems in your daily life.”
Most people choose classical journaling, the long-form, for this. This gives you paragraphs and pages to perform a deep dive into your psyche and figure out what’s going on. But that doesn’t mean micro journaling won’t work if that’s your thing.
Recently, I made a micro journal entry that went like this:
- Constant pain
These three simple bullet points speak volumes to me. I felt unhappy, sure, but this made me consider why. I have my dream job and the means to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, but I felt depressed. Why? Part of it was I was sleeping a lot and not moving toward my goals as assertively as possible. Well, dandy, but why. It turns out the second two bullet points explained that.
I hurt my shoulder and elbow seriously about six months ago and didn’t realize how badly. I couldn’t sleep; I had trouble typing, cooking, and cleaning; and I had to put down my guitar. And to top it off I started having stomach pains that incapacitated me. This led to a filthy home, a poor diet, no musical expression, and the one thing I absolutely love – writing – became so so physically painful that five minutes at the keyboard left me with tears in my eyes.
Gee. Wonder why I felt unhappy.
Now I have to admit, I did take a little time to whine and feel sorry for myself, but this also gave me a plan of action. I started by figuring out how to stop the pain. A few chiropractic adjustments loosened me up and helped me build an attack plan that included heat, cold, and elbow sleeves. The lessening pain eased my stomach and just the action of trying to help myself made me happier. All because of three short bullet points.
In a longer form, I might have started with something like,
“I’m so unhappy. My shoulder and elbow feel like they might explode, and my stomach is trying to redo a scene from a horror movie.”
And so on.
You can see how stringing those elements together can make you wonder if they’re related. At the very least, it gives you a way to prioritize what to fix first. In my case, going at one thing started fixing them all.
Probably the biggest con is creating what I like to call a crybaby sheet. I coined this term for journal entries that serve no purpose other than to whine and feel good about feeling sorry for myself. This is the quickest way to a serious case of depression. Remember, these negative journal entries should help you release the poison polluting your insides, give you insight into the how and why of the matter, and help you find a way to fix the problem.
Sometimes, writing, “my boss needs a good, old-fashioned pop in the chops,” is enough to get rid of that destructive thought. But it might also cause you to think about why you want to hit him rather than ignore him or find another positive way to cope.
And let’s be real. Sometimes these thoughts happen. But even if you’re boss truly does need a good smack, thinking about it or (worse!) doing it solves nothing. The negativity eats away at your soul, and I’ve heard that jail food makes airline chow look positively gourmet.
Also, remember that journaling is not a replacement for professional help. Therapists often recommend journaling as part of a rounded treatment plan, but how do you know if you need more help?
If chronicling your troubles brings you no relief or insight, or makes you feel worse, you might want to talk to someone. If you have any doubt, make the call. At the least, a counselor can let you know that you don’t need treatment and give you ideas to make your journaling more productive.
Whatever you do, don’t use your journal to support and enable your poor feelings. Acknowledge them, analyze them, and figure out how to fix them. For me, a chiropractor and a reusable ice pack got me started on the right path.
These entries can chronicle anything from little improvements to outright joys in your life. Using my micro journal example, the next entry would read:
- Took action
- Feel better
This reminds me that I did something about my issue instead of just complaining and that the decisions I made have helped. Those two bullet points let me know that I’ve regained some control over my life, have begun mastering my injuries, and know where to go from here. More than that, they have motivated me to get back to achieving goals with my writing, guitar, and health.
The long-form might look more like, “I finally had enough of the pain and depression. It looked like the pain was causing most of the problems, at least contributing to them, so I went to the chiropractor. The traction loosened something in my shoulder blade so that ice, heat, and wraps help my elbow.”
And so on.
I chose a bland example here to show that positive entries don’t have to be dramatic. The negative ones either, for that matter. But they can be. Something that starts with, “I kissed my true love for the first time,” or “I finally bought my own car,” will surely lead into entries filled with magical memories.
How can writing about positive experiences have a con, you ask? By keeping you from addressing problems that need your attention. We’ve all said things to make the best of a bad situation, but journaling this way can skew your perception of things.
If you decide to fight your depression by writing things like, “I have food, shelter, and a job,” you might be telling yourself you have no right to your negative feelings, rather than finding a way to focus on the good. Other people having it worse does not lessen or invalidate what you’re going through or your feelings in any way.
Don’t use positive journal entries to hide from your problems. Use them to remember the good times and make happy memories, to give you an anchor in the tough times, and to know that things weren’t always bad and won’t always be.
And use all of this advice to make journaling the best for you. Some of it may apply to you, or maybe not. Either way, you have one more tool in your journaling toolbox to take another step toward the perfect you!