At the moment, things are topsy-turvy, and the more I think about what’s going on, the more overwhelmed and frustrated I become. One of the things I do to keep my spirits up is journaling. On any normal day, I’m the kind of person who overthinks. Throwing uncertainty and the unknown into the mix increases the anxious feelings in my brain. Through journaling, I’m able to take all the things that I’m thinking and feeling and actually do something with them, rather than leave them running around in my head. Physically writing stuff down allows me to release everything and return to a state of clarity and calmness. The type of writing that I find the most helpful when I'm feeling anxious is free-form writing. The fancy term for it is “stream of consciousness”. It's all about writing down whatever you're thinking. No rules. No restrictions. Literally, just write. Obviously, that’s easier said than done. In fact, for me, the hardest part of journaling was actually trying it out for the first time – now, it’s almost become second nature. Here are some things that help me when journaling. Considering that I’m still doing it, they haven’t failed me yet (fingers crossed):
1. Anyone can write. I try to remind myself that it really doesn’t matter how good of a writer I am. Everybody knows how to write; from ABCs and small words to sentences, paragraphs and blogs (like this one). Everyone and anyone can write, and no two writings will ever be the same (unless plagiarism, which, no). Also, these are my words that nobody is going to read, so they only exist to me.
2. I’m not Shakespeare.
With the same thinking, if nobody reads what I write, then the only person who can judge my writing is me. Funnily enough, I still end up judging myself. I sometimes put too much pressure on myself to create something of value; the next Hamlet or Sonnet 18 (i.e. “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?). I have to remind myself that all I have to do is write, even if it’s a heaping pile of rubbish. I’m not digging for gold, just sifting through sand - the sand being my thoughts. And hey, if I do end up finding a diamond, all the better!
3. Timing is everything. I’ve tried setting aside a particular time of day to journal, but I usually end up burying myself in work and forget to write anything. The ideal scenario would be if I could just write in the spur of the moment or whenever a thought or idea urges me to. That can’t happen if I’m in a meeting or a lecture (or worse, driving).
So, I try to find a balance. What has worked the most is journaling in the evening because I use it as a way to unwind and unplug before I head to bed. If inspiration strikes at an inconvenient time, I usually try and scribble something down in my Notes app and save it for when I can sit down and really expand on it. I allow myself to write for as long as I feel like or until I finish a page – timing myself just makes me nervous (this isn’t an exam).
4. To write with and to write on. Technically, all I really need to journal are two things – a pen and paper. However, I’m quite picky and particular when it comes to what pen and paper I use. I like a pen with a little bit of weight to it, so that it actually feels like I’m holding something in my hand. As for paper, I like a journal, because a lot of loose papers just end up flying everywhere and getting lost. I’ve nicknamed my journaling notebook my “vomit journal”, to remind myself that anything I feel or think should just be vomited straight onto the page (not literally). 5. Clear space = clear mind. I, like many people in this world, get easily distracted. So, even before I open my journal, I make sure that I clear my space and remove any distractions. By doing this, I can then focus all my attention and energy on putting my thoughts on the page. I can’t start journaling without: a) clearing my desk – I can’t deal with a lot of clutter; it overloads my senses, b) unplugging from the internet – notifications break my train of thought.
6. Set the mood.
It’s the same as sex – music or no music (you dirty pig). I prefer no music because the silence helps me focus (in both cases, wink wink). However, sometimes, when I’m in the mood for it (like sex - okay, I'll stop now), listening to music does help me ignore everything that’s going on around me and zone in on writing. I tend to go for ambient and mellow instrumental music, because I usually end up listening to the lyrics instead of writing. My top choices for journaling music are:
7. What’s the point?
There are days when I know exactly what I’m going to journal. Something might have happened during the day that I need to vent about, or I might have read something interesting that gave me an idea. Other days, I stare at a blank page for ten minutes. In those moments, I focus on my breathing and let my mind wander. I’m such an overthinker that 99.99% of the time, a thought does ultimately find its way to the page.
What started off as me writing aimlessly has now become a very important coping mechanism and mindfulness technique. Obviously, this is my journaling journey, and just how no two writings will ever be the same, no two journaling experiences will be the same either. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too. Music or no music, morning or evening, paper and pen, it all boils down to one simple thing – just write.
Nicky Gambin Studio 18 Member