The concept of using a journal in therapy has permeated pop culture. For example, BBC’s Sherlock is narrated by John Watson’s online journal blog at his therapist’s suggestion. Usually, these examples show the subject writing down reflections on their life in a narrative format — to move the plotline forward. I use my journal for self-care but, not as a diary. Instead, I use the bullet journal format to help moderate my moods. It allows me to take some time to work on myself.
Lower Your Stress
I use my journal to help me manage daily stress. Inside, you’ll find weekly spreads where I keep track of the tasks on each date. Between those spreads are notes, trackers, and brainstorming sessions where I dump all my ideas.
It gives me a way to get the heavy things out of my head.
Clear My Mind
I lay in bed at night overthinking — and sometimes thinking about overthinking. I keep my journal by my bed and use it to take all those thoughts out of my mind. I put them on the pages. Now, I habitually journal at bedtime.
Get Some Perspective
As I was trying to recover from the birth of my son, I felt really bad about myself. I felt like my career had stalled because I wasn’t freelancing “enough.”
Then, I sat and compiled a list of every project I completed. I was shocked. I did way more than I remembered. Sometimes, I flip back to those pages and remember that I’m actually accomplishing more than I thought.
Take a Break
Sometimes I like to use my journal as a creative outlet. In quiet times, while I’m listening to an audiobook or sitting outside, it gives me a place to take a little break.
I can jot down some lovely quotes or make a small color palette to inspire my next project.
Make Time for What You Love
I have always struggled to keep a diary consistently. I had no interest in scrapbooking or photo albums. But, I wanted something to memorialize and reflect on my time in this life.
Around that time, I decided to flesh out my daily planner into something a little more meaningful. I switched over from a calendar-type planner to using blank journals. Each page was a day where I kept a list of my daily tasks with a date. At the bottom, I would write a few sentences of reflection.
Over time, I switched to dot journals and the format has shifted. Sometimes I don’t leave any space for ideas. Other times, I do a big brain dump. No matter how I format the pages, I find that using a journal has improved my life. It gives meaning to all those meaningless tasks.
Never Lose Notes
Keeping a list of ideas and notes between your daily tasks creates a diary of the mind. Even if it isn’t narrative, it can show a lot about your mood and focus during a period of time.
For example, the notes around my daily tasks during my pregnancy were so ambivalent. You could see that I was concerned and excited about all the changes to come. I think if my son were to flip through those pages later in life, he could get a picture of what things were like for me as I anticipated his birth.
Similarly, I’ve noticed my mood shift toward negativity during some toxic work situations. I notice my list piling up with stressful, senseless tasks. I can see more and more fraught words in the notes on the pages. When I see those kinds of frustrations, it reminds me that I need to adjust my attitude or change my situation. In this way, journals make us more aware of the quality of life. And by putting those notes on the pages, we’ll always be able to reflect.
Don’t Forget Dates
I am pretty good at setting reminders but, terrible at logging them after the fact. The memories are quickly lost because I don’t do scrapbooks or photo albums regularly.
However, I have found that I look back on my notes alongside big events. While some things may be straightforward, the details can be interesting. What gift did a buy for that birthday? What people did I call about an event?
I threw a party for my husband several years ago where I wanted to serve a special peanut butter pie. He loved one from a local restaurant that had closed. I tried many different recipes until I found one just for his party. He was so happy. The process was kind of recorded in my journal because I kept notes on how I wanted to prepare the dessert. I didn’t actually say I put in all that energy because I loved him. But, you can read between the lines and feel the emotion in those efforts.
It’s interesting to see what I thought was important enough to record.
Sort Your Priorities
Above all, journaling makes you pause and evaluate your priorities. Handwriting is slower than typing, or clicking. So, by the nature of keeping a handwritten journal, you must reflect more.
“An observer can’t tell if a person is silent and still because inner life has stalled or because inner life is transfixedly busy.” – Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted
Sometimes, as I am logging all the things I need to do, I start crossing things out. It makes me realize that so many items on my list are unimportant.
Focus on Positive Thoughts
When I think of a character that radiates positivity, without being saccharine, I remember Anne Shirley. She’s a tad melodramatic at the beginning of the “Anne of Green Gables” series.
Overall, she is a thoughtful person who shapes her worldview around a belief that good things will come to her. Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I read one of those stories. Even if I just absorb a chapter or a quote about Anne with an E, I feel instantly better.
Recently, I was reflecting on how Anne, as a writer, attracted happy thoughts into her life. This brought me back to the format of my daily planner and how I might do the same. There are so many different tracker ideas, available on Pinterest and Instagram, that can boost your positivity.
Mood trackers allow you to shift your attitude in a more positive direction. You can see what kinds of things trigger stress, anxiety or negative feelings.
I’m not very good at tracking long-term but, I did a very simple mood tracker once. I noticed that toward the end of the month, when my workload got high, I felt very stressed. So, I looked for ways to alleviate that stress and shift my mood.
These little auditory histories are so fun to look back upon. I never thought of tracking a playlist for the month until I saw it on Instagram. They’re fun in the moment but, also lovely to reset your mood to a happier time.
You can make a list of songs to listen to that always make you feel better. For me, it’s definitely “Fidelity” by Regina Spektor, every time.
When I don’t get enough sleep, I get cranky. But, the seasons of life shift me away from sleep constantly. If you have that same problem, consider tracking your sleep.
“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
― L.M. Montgomery
It helps you prioritize the rest and focus on the opportunity that sleeping creates for the forthcoming day.
I have been collecting quotes for years. I don’t do anything elaborate. I just fill journals with lovely sayings as I find them. Most of the time, they come when I read books.
If you have a place, make space to track quotes that make you feel good. They can even just be nice things that people said around you.
Do you journal for self-care?
If you use your journal as part of your self-care ritual, I’d like to hear about it. Let me know if you fill your pages with doodles or write down inspiring thoughts. If you liked this post, you might enjoy the creative ideas on my Instagram feed.