By Gemma Hart

The Power of Journaling During Difficult Times


Getting your thoughts on paper can be a game-changer.

Turbulent times affect us all at one point or another, leaving us feeling as though our minds are awash with negative thoughts. 

But journaling – the act of emptying your mind onto paper – can provide clarity and, with regular practice, quiet the mind. This style of expressive writing can vary from person to person. 

You might be someone who writes as though you’re speaking to a friend, take a creative writing approach and transform your thoughts into a story, or you may take a brain dump approach, simply getting every thought out so you can think clearly. Whatever route you take, journaling has immense power when you’re struggling, and here’s why.  

Develop healthy coping mechanisms

It’s no secret that during challenging times, there’s an increased temptation to rely on a variety of crutches such as drinking too much, romanticizing the past, binge eating unhealthy food, suppressing your emotions to appear “positive”, overbooking your schedule to avoid being alone with your thoughts or getting involved with substance abuse as a way of coping. But these bad habits have a knock-on effect, increasing the risk of health concerns, affecting your mental health and even leading to addiction in some cases.

Journaling can help you get through tough times by enabling you to get in touch with your thoughts, emotions and how you feel about the people or situations in your life. It’s a healthy coping mechanism that allows you to process your life in the moment, but journaling can also help you to discover patterns or underlying issues that you may not have spotted otherwise - this can help benefit you in the future too to recognize when you’re falling back into potentially self-destructive habits or tendencies. 

Creative skill-building is used to capture ideas and provide self-reflection, both key skills for creatives.

Creative skill-building is an area which you’ll develop through journaling, it offers an additional benefit when you’re struggling with a difficult period. For example, if you’re on the road to recovery, it can help aid your journey, as Kayla Gill, Luxury Rehab’s Content Director, points out  – “creativity is an excellent way to channel uncomfortable emotions into something positive. Using the creative process as a coping mechanism gives you new insight, improves your judgement and helps you deal with stress and process trauma”.

Prioritize your problems

When your life feels out of control, it can be hard to spot the problems and issues that require your attention first. Ultimately, everything feels important and like it needs to be handled immediately. But this is rarely the case in reality.  

In these instances, journaling is an effective way of keeping track of what’s going on in your life so you can recognize what’s truly important and what can be pushed back. Seeing your life laid out in front of you, through pen to paper, can provide clarity and allow you to see what is truly urgent vs. where your emotions are strongest. Once all of your ideas are down on paper, that can be a useful time to create a more objective to-do list, because your mind will likely feel clearer after recording all your thoughts and worries.

Improve decision-making skills

In a journal, we can be completely honest with ourselves. We don’t need to hide how we feel or play up to anyone’s expectations. Our thoughts, emotions and opinions are entirely our own. And this is helpful when it comes to understanding how we truly feel about areas of our life. Through journaling, you may be able to come to certain decisions or conclusions about what needs to change in order for things to improve. 

The difficulty you’re facing may be to do with your relationship, your job, or your health. Perhaps through seeing your honest feelings on the page in front of you, you can see that you need to switch to a job that makes you happier or make lifestyle changes to improve your health. Maybe you’ve realized that you and your partner are heading in different directions. Journaling can bring these types of issues to light, enabling you to see what needs to happen in order for you to be happy. 

Different types of journals

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to journaling. In fact, you can make it whatever you want it to be – that’s part of the beauty of this method of managing your emotions. Finding the right type of journaling often requires trial and error. 

Stream of consciousness

This method of journaling is completely unrestricted. You write whatever comes to mind and you keep putting pen to paper until you’ve run out of words to say. It doesn’t need to make sense or be grammatically correct – it’s more about getting your thoughts out, whatever you’re bottling up. Stream of consciousness is a method best used for beginners who could be slightly more conscious or worried about getting it right and being effective with journaling.  

Diary

Diary journals are used to record your daily events. But when you’re struggling with a difficult period in your life, this style of journaling can help you recognise events that might be triggering negative thought patterns. A diary is perfect for anyone looking for a way to monitor their progress and to gain a sense of motivation to focus on their next milestone.

Gratitude

Focusing on the positive has been proven to improve your resilience, boost your mental and physical health, and increase satisfaction in life. With a gratitude journal, you list out a certain number of things you’re grateful for each day. This type of journaling is ideal for someone looking to feel more content in their life, someone who upon reflection has noticed more negative emotions in their day-to-day and would like to improve their emotional wellbeing.

Top tip: You might write: “I am grateful for my partner and the support they provide me with each day; I am grateful for the job that sustains me financially”, and so on. It forces you to see things from a positive perspective which takes you out of a negative mindset. 

Health

Track your health, whether it’s physical or mental, and how you feel. If the difficulty you’re facing is due to your health, this can be a great way for you to manage your thoughts and coping with an illness or injury but also witnessing your progression. 

17 journaling prompts to start using today

A common issue that many people find when journaling is that it can be very open-ended. Teaching yourself to be disciplined at journaling will come in time, but be patient and trust the process. 

We’ve compiled a list below of some of the most effective journaling prompts that will help you feel more in touch with yourself, create structure within your journaling and to help find new perspectives. 

Whether you’re an avid journaler or you’re just starting out, the following prompts will help you to cherry-pick the prompts that resonate with you the most which you can refer to and take inventory of what you’re facing that particular day. 

The What’s:

  • What am I most proud of in life?
  • What does my life look like 10 years from now? Be specific. How can I achieve it?
  • What personal trait do I wish more people would associate with me? 
  • What is currently holding me back from achieving the life I want?
  • What techniques do I use when feeling stressed? 
  • What distractions get in the way of me living my best life? 
  • What negative feelings am I currently feeling? Why am I feeling them? Can I do anything today to combat this feeling? 
  • What has been my biggest achievement/milestone this year? And why? 
  • What affirmations do I need to hear today? 

List of 3s:

  • List 3 things in my life that I’m most grateful for. 
  • List 3 things you wish you had. How can I obtain them over the next 6 months? 
  • List 3 things I am currently worrying/feeling stressed about. Can I address any? If so, how?
  • List 3 character traits that I would want to be remembered by, is this a true reflection of who I currently am? 
  • List 3 actions that you can execute daily to bring you closer to your goals.

Write a list or a letter:

  • Write a letter to my younger self.
  • Write a letter of gratitude to my mind, body and soul. 
  • Write down any grudges I’m holding onto, write them down and let them go. 

Final thoughts

Journaling is an opportunity for self-reflection and it can foster an insightful mindset that can help you to get through troubling times. Journaling can be a central tool in reclaiming control of your life and your emotions when everything feels like it’s in chaos, assisting you in your ability to identify your innermost thoughts.

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Today's post is a guest post from Gemma Hart. 

Gemma Hart works remotely from as many coffee shops as she can find. Since graduating many moons ago, Gemma has gained experience in a number of HR roles but now turns her focus towards growing her personal brand and connecting with leading experts in productivity and education. Connect with her on Twitter: @GemmaHartTweets