Nicola Watson-Bird, our Additional Needs Support Coordinator explains the benefits of journalling and how to get started.

Therapeutic journalling.

We know that self-care needs to be a priority for us, but finding energy for exercise, money for a coffee with a friend or an opportunity for ‘me’ time is almost impossible … and as for a long soak in a bath full of bubbles surrounded by candles, that’s neither your ‘thing’ nor very practical.

Mental health professionals tell us that keeping a regular or occasional record of our experiences, emotions and thoughts is good for our health. Psychologists say that putting our thoughts and feelings on paper, rather than bottling them up or dwelling on them endlessly, is actually cathartic.

Writing down what’s going on within you when you’re feeling distressed can bring about an immediate sense of relief. If we can write with a focus on positive experiences, we help train our brain to pay closer attention to them. Journalling may help us organise and structure our thoughts so as we write we may come up with new ideas and strategies.

Simply find yourself a notebook, gather some pens that you enjoy writing with, put the date at the top of your first page and get started. Or you may prefer to use a journalling app.

Try using the acronym WRITE:

  • What will you write about? Choose your topic.
  • Review/reflect on it. It can help to focus by taking a few deep breaths.
  • Investigate your thoughts and feelings. Start writing and keep writing: do not judge, just let your thoughts and emotions flow as they come. Write whatever comes to your mind. Feel free to just be yourself – honestly, authentically, and unapologetically.
  • Time yourself. At first set yourself a time limit and aim to write for five, ten or fifteen minutes straight. You can increase the timed writing sessions as you go.
  • End. Read over what you have just written down, reflect a little more and decide whether you want to add a couple of concluding sentences.

You could write a letter to yourself, about where you are in life just now. Or perhaps write a letter, one you’ll never send, to someone you find it difficult to talk to. Write down all the things you would like to express, if you could.

Journalling can be a healthy way to process grief and loss. If you have lost someone close to you, you could write a letter to them, expressing all the things you wish you had said. Perhaps you have experienced deep disappointment? Write down your thoughts and feelings as if you were confiding in your very best, most loyal friend, then take some time to reflect on those feelings.

Not a letter writer? Don’t worry – here are some phrases you might like to use to get you started instead:

The thing I most worry about is …
My happiest memory lately is …
The definition of a great day for me is … (write about the things that would comprise a fulfilling day. What would leave you smiling widely, engaged, content and happy?)
If I could talk to my teenage self, the one thing I would say is …
Right now, I am … (elaborate). I want to be …
I am grateful for …

Every now and then you can use your journal to have a ‘Worry Purge’. Allow yourself ten minutes to write down anything and everything you worry about. Once it is out of your head and on the paper, give yourself permission to leave it there for now, and return to it later, not allowing any of it to further interfere with the rest of your day.

Focus on the positive. Write down everything that went well on a given day, no matter how big or small. This can do wonders for your sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, and nurture an attitude of gratitude and appreciation for life.

If you’re more of a picture person than a word person, print out some of your photos, cut out images from magazines, newspapers, junk mail, letters or old cards, then arrange and stick them in your journal. You can then ask yourself, ‘What do I feel when I look at this picture?’ and ‘What would I like to say to the people, places and things in this picture?’

Give it a go – what have you got to lose?

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