Journaling Can Make You Feel Worse If You Do It Wrong
Here’s How You Do It Right
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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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