Journaling is one of those hobbies that traditionally has gotten a bad rap. It’s been considered the tool of pipe-dreamers, the self-absorbed (who else would sit and write about their feelings right?), unstable artists and other, well, impractical, ungrounded people. In reality, there is plenty of research supporting the idea that a journal is a very practical tool. It can help you focus and better solve problems, reach a more balanced perception of your life and even boost your physical health.
The very act of journaling can be beneficial; like meditation, it’s a practice that requires stepping away from the chaos of everyday life and reflecting inward. Journals are a safe place to vent every frustration since no one other than you ever has to see it. They’re also great places to really let loose and be uninhibited – hash out those crazy ideas you’ve always had, confess your fears, work out the pros and cons of that problem or issue. Write everything in poetry, or backward, or vertically. So often, lupus patients are putting on a “face” for family, friends, doctors and coworkers that having a safe, private place to drop that mask is important.
Journals can fun, silly, and creative as well as practical and therapeutic. They’re also a hobby that fits any schedule, any lifestyle and any personality. If you haven’t ever tried journaling, take a look at just a teeny sample of what’s possible in the examples below – and try your own 30-day journaling experiment to see how journaling can help you along your lupus journey.
What Type of Journal Should I Start?
I called my first journals “scratchbooks”. They were jumbles of everything under the sun: to-do lists, rants, vents, drawings, bad poetry, appointment reminders and random ideas. If you’re new to journaling or have had trouble with journals in the past, a scratchbook might take some of the pressure off.
There are also theme journals that can help boost specific areas of your life. I’ve listed just a few popular ones below:
You don’t need science to tell you that hurtful, scary and sad events stick more in our minds than happy and fun ones, which can often color our perceptions of our lives a nasty gray. Taking time during the day (or week) to stop and actively record the things we’re truly thankful for, no matter how small, can help balance our views of our lives and shift our thinking from helpless self-pity to realistic optimism. What are you thankful for? If you need a little nudge to get you going, Tiny Buddha has some great tips, or check out Berkley College’s community gratitude journal for examples. Then take 5 minutes to reflect on what you have to be thankful for. What always makes my list: super-comfy bed sheets, tea and that lovely, hazy time in bed when you’re not quite awake and don’t have to get up yet.
Feeling directionless? Have you lost your passion or maybe are just feeling disconnected? Tap into your subconscious with a dream journal. Record your nightly dreams and your daily quest to figure them out. Likely, you’ll be surprised and amused at what you discover and the clues you uncover might just lead you into your next life adventure (or at least explain that weird pink elephant dream you keep having).
Track your symptoms, change your diet, start a new exercise plan…health-related journals are all the rage now. There are tons of websites and apps that can help you keep track of any and all of your healthy ambitions – and keeping track is a proven method
Honestly though, you can keep a journal about anything. Feeling like your lupus is eating up your life? Keep a Balance journal to remind you to have more fun. Just want to vent? Try a rage book. Need a boost? Keep a book of inspiring quotes. Or just write. Right now, on whatever is available.
Paper vs Online
What medium you use for your journal is really a matter of personal taste. While I love every electronic gadget under the sun, when it comes to journals, nothing beats a fist full of colored pens and a few idle minutes doodling in the margins of a page. Something about the ‘cut’ and ‘paste’ option on an app just doesn’t have the same zing. Both mediums have their pros and cons. An online journal can be accessed anywhere and fully fleshed out with snapshots, sound clips and other digital media much more easily than with a paper journal. On the other hand, the acts of writing out your entries, making some drawings or actually cutting and pasting pictures in a paper book forces you to break away from the day’s craziness and create some quiet time for yourself – which can be just as relaxing and soothing as the actual journaling process itself.
Private vs Public
Did you know that journals and diaries were originally very private – as in nobody but the writer ever read it? Well, unless your parents or siblings found out where you hid it, of course. People want connection, validation, support and it can be tempting to share your private thoughts and troubles online to get these from your followers and/or friends. On the flip side, however, rants can be misunderstood or attacked, leaving you more stressed and more alienated than you were before! The benefit of keeping your journal private is that it creates a safe space – a space where you really can write anything, without judgement, without (unhelpful) commentary and without consequences. If you want to work through a thorny problem or just want to vent, this may be the best option for you.
If the temptation to broadcast your every thought to the world at large is too big, take a minute to examine why. Do you feel like you need advice? Maybe you just feel really lonely. In those cases, a journal might not be the best coping tool for you. If you’re not sure, try starting a journal anyway and see if your root problem reveals itself in your entries.
How do I start?
One of the great things about journaling is that it’s a cheap and easy practice to start. See a napkin? Got a pen? You’ve just started. Type out a note on your smartphone. There – you’ve just made a journal entry. If you want a little more pomp and circumstance than that, you can spend a little time browsing for a notebook at your local stationary store (or Staples if you need something a little more beefy, like a medical planner). Or hit the web and try a few free online journals for a few days and see how that works out. One word of caution, however: don’t get so caught up in all the options that you miss the most important step, which is to write. Stick to something simple and cheap so you don’t feel pressured to start being deep and profound (or legible) on the very first page.