“Write what should not be forgotten.” — Isabel Allende
Perhaps you kept a diary as a child. Perhaps you have a well-worn journal that has been gathering dust on your desk. Perhaps you’re curious about journaling but don’t consider yourself a “writer.” Whatever the circumstances, putting pen to paper sometimes feels challenging. What will you write about? What’s important enough? What are you supposed to say? How do you begin? When questions like this bubble up, it can be useful to ground yourself in the benefits of this practice, and explore prompts to help get the words flowing.
Benefits of Journaling
Journaling, or expressive writing, can be very therapeutic. In fact, journaling is often a highly encouraged activity in eating disorder treatment settings. In a study by Baikie and Wilhelm in 2005, researchers found that expressive writing could lead to:
- Boosts in mood or affect
- An enhanced sense of wellbeing
- Reduced feelings of stress or anxiety before an important event
- Reduced symptoms associated with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Improvements in working memory or recall
Writing down our thoughts and feelings can serve as a canvas for processing emotions, for making sense of life’s challenges, and for cultivating a deeper sense of personal meaning.
Beyond its therapeutic benefits, journaling can also serve as a simple hobby or pastime. Some people maintain a regular, dedicated diary practice. Others pick up a journal from time to time. Whatever your method and mode, no two journaling practices are quite alike. But, there are a few ways to hone your practice.
Sparking Journaling Inspiration
Many authors have been quoted as saying that reading is as important to the writing process as writing itself. When it comes to journaling, if you’re seeking your rhythm and flow, read! Read fiction, non-fiction, recovery writings about the practice of writing, famous published diaries, history, self-help books, spiritual texts – anything that catches your interest.
Beyond reading, consider exploring different styles of writing. Not every journal entry has to begin with “Dear Diary” and recount the events of the day. Experiment with writing your story, a story, an essay or a letter.
If you don’t consider yourself a “natural writer” (whatever that means) or just get writers block, consider utilizing journaling prompts to inspire your process.
- Make lists! Lists are a helpful activity for organizing matter or the mind. Gratitude lists can counter a low mood. A skills list can provide a source of grounding ideas in times of stress. Even a to do list can be incredibly soothing. Lists can serve as great reminders – not only of tasks, but of aspirations, inspirations and more.
- Write a letter. Due to COVID-19, we are all experiencing some form of increased isolation. Isolation can take shape as schooling or working from home, limited to no activities with groups of people, even just less time with friends. A letter can offer a beautiful way to connect with someone in your life that you haven’t seen much of lately. So can an email – handwritten is lovely but certainly not necessary. And you can’t attach a GIF to snail mail!
- Plan your communication. DEAR MAN, GIVE and FAST are good cues for both written and verbal communication, but even if planning to use in conversation, writing out your thoughts in advance is helpful. Writing down what we want to say to another person can help us pause before reacting from a highly emotional place and help us respond more thoughtfully.
- Try creative writing. A short story? A poem? Maybe a limerick or haiku? Give it a try and see what resonates with you.
- Tackle your eating disorder with the written word. Write a letter to your younger self, and tell that person what you know now. Write a letter to your future self, living a life of meaning in long-term recovery, and state your wishes and dream for that future self. Acknowledge what an eating disorder gives and what it takes away by making a pros and cons list – short term AND long term. Write out some of your eating disorder thoughts and challenge distorted thinking with facts.
- When in doubt, it’s okay to start your journal entry with “Dear Diary” and write about your day.
No matter what tactic you take, remember that journaling and expressive writing is uniquely yours. The way you express yourself in written word is never “right” or “wrong,” and can be entirely tailored to what serves you best – both in recovery and your day to day life. Just as in the recovery journey, no two stories are alike. You are the author of this book. Make it your own.