During the UK lockdowns, many people have felt isolated, frustrated and have found it difficult to express how they are feeling to the people around them. Bottling up emotions can have a negative impact on your wellbeing, but if you want to vent without voicing your private thoughts – what should you do?
Emma West, an online counsellor who has Kniest Syndrome, illustrates how journaling has supported her mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic. Emma describes journaling as a ‘form of therapy’ that has helped her through a number of difficult stages in her life.
I’ve been doing a lot of decluttering in lockdown. The process has given me something to do in my spare time and it has also resulted in an increasingly sorted space to live in, which I’ve found very calming. A good vibe to have at this somewhat tumultuous time.
During the second lockdown, I decided to tackle a ‘monster job’ – namely going through all of my belongings that had effectively been dumped in boxes under our bed.
In the clearout, I found a box of mementoes from my own childhood. It included an impressive number of diaries and notes that I had written over the years.
There were pages and pages filled with my innermost thoughts – grappling with my identity, particularly as a disabled teenager. I came across entries where I wondered what the future would look like for me. I confided in my diary about daily difficulties and relationships.
I currently work as an online counsellor and reading through what I’d written, I realised how journaling had clearly seen me through some really difficult times.
In the 1980s, at the time of my most prolific musing, the idea of talking about how you felt and/or going to see a counsellor weren’t really on the everyday radar as they are today.
Thanks to the accessibility of writing, I had inadvertently discovered my own form of therapy.
Writing things down was an opportunity for me to say it how it was, identify the struggles, explore options, thrash out problems, write down goals and to celebrate the good things too.
I have continued to use journaling throughout the years, particularly when I feel like I’ve hit an emotional wall and just need to get my thoughts out.
My entries tend to be written on my computer – it’s not as romantic as a written journal, but it’s just as effective!
So how could journaling help you through lockdown and beyond? Here are 7 ways you can use it… plus take a look at some inspiration from these journalers on Instagram.
1. You don’t need to be a good writer to create a journal
Your writing can be for your eyes only, so it doesn’t matter if you can’t spell or you feel your grammar is rubbish. You could even use pictures, mind maps or diagrams if you prefer.
It’s just space for you to say whatever you want – there are no restrictions.
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2. Consider journaling as a way of looking after yourself
If you want to do a written journal, some people like to invest in a nice book or diary to write in. But you can just use a pad of paper, your computer or phone – whatever suits you best.
3. Journaling can be regular or occasional
You might decide to write just when you feel the need for an outlet, but I think it’s worth trying regular journaling. Try using it to reflect on your day or week. Ask yourself:
- What went well?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What small change could you make to improve things?
But remember to do what is right for you – if you only visit your journal once in a blue moon, that’s okay too.
4. Problem solving through journaling
Brainstorming options can be a form of problem-solving. Don’t censor potential solutions, but pick what feels like the best course of action.
If you have negative feelings about someone, in the present or from the past, try writing a letter to them in your journal.
You don’t need to send the letter – just see it as a helpful exercise in expressing what you’d really like to say and consequently offloading some inner frustrations.
5. Be grateful
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One popular form of journaling is to write a gratitude journal. You might wonder how that might help, but you won’t know until you try it! All you need to do is write down a few things that you are grateful for that happened that day.
Be specific – so rather than saying “I felt happy today” expand on this, for example, “I felt happy when my neighbour said a cheery hello to me” or “I felt happy when I read my book for 10 minutes”.
6. Avoid being judgemental
When you write, try not to judge yourself. Instead, express yourself freely and try to understand why things are how they are. If you are feeling grumpy, angry, upset, ask yourself why.
Your response might be as a result of something that is happening now, such as the lockdowns. But it might also be a response influenced by your past, for example, a fear of being alone may influence your response.
7. Write down your goals and celebrate successes
Sometimes it’s hard to look to the future, but try setting yourself some small goals for the coming days and weeks.
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There’s something motivating about writing down goals and the best goals are SMART:
Reasonable goals, such as clearing out one cupboard in the kitchen by midday can be achievable. Try not to overwhelm yourself with tasks that may be too pressurising, for example, sorting out the entire kitchen by 3pm.
Don’t forget to celebrate when you’ve achieved your goal too as that will motivate you to move on to the next one.
By Emma West
Find out more about Emma’s online counselling services by visiting her website, and read her previous article for more useful techniques – 7 ways to boost your mental wellbeing during the lockdown and beyond.
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