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Health & Wellbeing

The Joys of Journaling

Can a journal really be your new best friend?

woman holding a stack of journals
My personal collection of journals. Credit: Deia Leykind

Journaling is pure magic: it alleviates stress and loneliness and unleashes creativity and a process of self-discovery. A 2006 study by Stice, Burton, Bearman, & Rohde showed that keeping a journal can be just as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy in reducing the risk of depression in young adults. Another study by Hasanzadeh, Khoshknab, & Norozi found it noticeably reduced anxiety in women suffering from chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis. Its a great way of spending time with the most important person in your life (you!) and, most importantly, fun!

Why We Love to Journal

Humans have practiced journaling for centuries, with records tracing the practice back to 55AD China. It’s an important tool for emotional regulation, easing the burden of everyday worries by offloading them onto the page. The greatest part is that the page never judges: it doesn’t answer back or shut you down; it just listens.

As someone who has kept diaries since the age of eight or nine, it’s incredibly gratifying to look back at past entries and realising how far you’ve come. Not to mention the relief in laughing at some things that once felt like the end of the world to a younger self who didn’t yet know all that you do now. It all makes life seem a little lighter.

But don’t just take it from me: so many contemporary female icons praise the practice. On her lifestyle podcast Service 95, Dua Lipa affirms the value of jotting down the more mundane details of her day, inspired by the simplicity of George Harrison’s journals. She appreciates that the writing doesn’t have to be perfect. With journaling, you are writing not to be consumed but to let go.

Alicia Rountree-Zanier is a former VS model, founder of Alicia Swim and co-founder of the upcoming wellness brand Meditatif. In an interview, she explained to me how important journaling is in her every day:

“I love having that ‘me time’ where I can focus and get clear; putting thoughts down on paper is like a meditation […] It also allows me to understand the things I want in life, and make those dreams become a reality.”

Alicia Rountree-Zanier

Keep an eye out for her upcoming wellness journal in collaboration with Meditatif, launching in October.

How do I journal, anyway?

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all guide on journaling, but here are some suggestions to help you get started!

STEP 1: Gathering your materials

Choosing your journal can be an overwhelming business… but also a big part of the excitement. I like the elegant leather-bound exteriors of Moleskine’s diaries, but any old notebook will do! And remember, if you don’t like the cover, you can always layer it with stickers or drawings.

If a book full of gaping blank pages scares you, there are also some great pre-structured journals that provide built-in guidance. Check out The Greatest Self-Help Book is the One Written by You, a daily journal by Vex King and Kaushal, or Sharon Jones’ Burn After Writing.

STEP 2: Find your inspiration

Page from Da Vinci's Notebook
A page from Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook. Credit: The British Library/ Da Vinci’s Notebook

Okay, now that we’ve got the pages, how do we fill them?

My Ten Favourite Ways to Fill a Journal:

1. Favourite lyric lines or poetry stanzas: even if it’s mostly Taylor Swift’s lyrics, it’s nice to have them all in one place.

2. Gratitude journal: Every evening, write three things you are grateful for in your day. Remember, the smallest of everyday wins deserve to be celebrated too!

3. Free-flow writing: A great way to get going is to sit down, put on a five-minute timer, and see what comes out. It takes away the pressure, and often, you’ll be surprised with what you come up with.

4. Sketches and squiggles: You don’t have to be an expert drawer for this – I’ve made some of the most abysmal drawings in my journal, but it doesn’t matter because it felt good to get it out.

5. Stick stick stick: stickers, postcards, letters, tickets, receipts – you name it. Anything can become a sacred memento for the journaling fanatic, adding a visually exciting dimension to your pages.

6. Wishes and goals: The best way to get what you want is to know what you want! And the sooner you’ve figured that out, the sooner you can learn how to get it…

7. Dream journal: Record your dreams as soon as you wake up. It can be an effective and exciting way to tap into your subconscious and get to know yourself better; sometimes, they’re too funny to let go.

8. Favourite inspirational quotes: When you need a pick me up, all the wise words you need will be already there waiting for you.

9. Affirmations: A list of affirmations in your journal can be very grounding in moments of difficulty, reminding you of your values. Something as simple as ‘I am enough’ can work wonders.

10. Shadow work: A bit like self-therapy, doing shadow work is very valuable in helping you uncover things inside of you that you might not have known were there… try having a poke around Pinterest to find some shadow prompts that appeal to you.

STEP 3: Start Writing!

There’s nothing more for it; start writing and experience the joys of journaling for yourself.

Now you’ve started… don’t stop!

Film still of Jo March writing, in Greta Gerwig's 'Little Women'
Saoirse Ronan as Jo March, writing at her desk. Credit: Little Women, Greta Gerwig

Little and often is the key to journaling; don’t feel you must write pages when a line a day can make all the difference. It’s about checking in with yourself, not coming up with the next great literary masterpiece. If looking back at your entries makes you cringe… it means you’re doing it right. Journaling should be raw, unpolished, and real – it’s the best kind of writing. As The School of Life London writes, “If we aren’t appalled by much of what we have said to ourselves, we aren’t beginning to be truthful.”

Remember that your journal is the friend that will always have your back; let it be there for you.

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