Journaling Can Make You Feel Worse If You Do It Wrong

Here’s How You Do It Right

Amy Hartsough
Oct 23 · 3 min read
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Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

Do you journal?

Journaling is frequently cited as an absolute necessity for anyone on a journey of self-discovery or self-improvement.

I’ve been journaling regularly since college (over twelve years ago now). I started journaling as an assignment that was given by a few professors. We were asked to respond to our readings in an interdisciplinary course and to make observations about our daily lives for an acting class.

After college, I kept journaling for personal reasons. Writing in my notebook gave me an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. It gave me a place to plan my goals and track my progress. I loved it. For the most part.

But sometimes I took a break because I’d get into a funk that even journaling couldn’t seem to help with. It felt like I’d written myself into a corner by focusing on my feelings when I was depressed or anxious.

Recently, I realized what the problem was and discovered a solution. I’m here to share them with you.

The Problem

I realized that when I was journaling while feeling down, writing about it could make me feel worse.

So I’d stop journaling until I felt better.

But why did writing about my feelings make me feel worse? Isn’t journaling about your emotions supposed to be a great way to process them and move on?

Theoretically, yes. Except that I wasn’t moving on. I was just dumping my crappy emotions onto the page and then leaving them there to stew. I’d write for thirty minutes about how bad I felt and walk away feeling hopeless and frustrated.

I thought, “what the hell’s the point of journaling if it doesn’t seem to help me anymore?”

The problem was that I’d been using my journal as just a place to vent when really it’s meant to be a place of personal transformation.

The Solution

Once I realized that simply writing down descriptions of the stress and anxiety I was feeling made me feel worse, I experimented with ways to write that would help me feel better.

What ended up working for me is a process that I describe below:

  • Start out by writing about how you feel in the present moment; if you’re feeling stressed, write about that.
  • Before you end your journaling session, push yourself to transform what you’ve written into positive statements about your life (affirmations).

It’s a simple process, but it works for me. Here’s an example from my journal.

The before:

“I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything I have to get done today: the writing, the administrative work, the housework. It’s a lot, and I feel tension in my shoulders and I noticed that I’ve been grinding my teeth.”

The transformation:

“It’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes; feelings don’t last forever. And the truth is, I don’t have to do all of these things today; I’m choosing to do them. I get to determine what’s important to me and make time to focus on those things. I’m in control of my schedule and I can get through the day by focusing on one task at a time. When I think like this, I notice my muscles relaxing and I can breathe deeper.”

It’s not rocket science. I simply observe my emotions and how they manifest in my body. Then I talk myself through the situation by reframing my thoughts in a positive way.

Instead of using my journal as a receptacle to hold my verbally-vomited emotions (sorry for the image, but it’s true), I now use it as a place to transform those difficult emotions into something else.

And it helps. I’m journaling almost every day again. I no longer dread it because I know how to use writing to make me feel better. It took some trial and error to get here, but it’s been worth it.

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Amy Hartsough

Written by

Get my FREE 5-day email course for entrepreneurs, Focus Your Vision into a Plan, for journaling tips & prompts: https://amyhartsough.ck.page/free-course

The Brave Writer

The next generation of writers breaking barriers together.

Amy Hartsough

Written by

Get my FREE 5-day email course for entrepreneurs, Focus Your Vision into a Plan, for journaling tips & prompts: https://amyhartsough.ck.page/free-course

The Brave Writer

The next generation of writers breaking barriers together.

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