Whether you are about to enter your first year at university or are returning for a new term, going back after the holidays can feel daunting and unsettling. Journaling can be a good way to track your thoughts, explore your emotions, and uncover the silver lining when feeling overwhelmed.
A great tool for raising our self-awareness, journaling can not only help us to be more aware of our thoughts and feelings, but can also prompt us to take better care of ourselves and encourage self-care in our routines.
Regularly journaling each morning can help us feel calm and prepared for the day’s upcoming activities. Alternatively, writing down our thoughts each evening can help us clear our minds, release and reflect on our day, and focus on the small positive moments we may have overlooked. Journaling can help us reflect and explore our whole emotional experience – positive, negative, and everything in between.
If you are new to journaling, or are just looking for some hints to get you started, we have put together four simple prompts to help inspire and encourage you to explore your emotional well-being through journaling.
Practice self-love, self-care, and look after your own well-being
Knowing about self-care and practicing regular self-care can be two very different things. By incorporating self-care activities like journaling into our daily routine, we are taking care of our emotional and mental well-being, while reminding ourselves that it’s ok to take time out to love, care, and look after ourselves. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s vital to our well-being.
Spending time along with our thoughts and letting them out via journaling can be a good way to explore our emotions, thoughts, and experiences. This gives us the time and space to reflect on our day, pick up the signs that we may be becoming stressed, while reserving previous time for ourselves.
Uncovering habits and routines that are no longer helpful or beneficial. Is there anything you currently do that used to have a positive impact, but may no longer be making you feel good? Some activities may start out helpful or with good intentions, but over time may become stressful as our situations change.
Try making a list. Write: habits and things I do regularly on one side of the page. On the other side, list the ways this makes you feel and how it affects your overall mood.
Perhaps you used to love doing Monday night yoga with your friend during first year, but now you leave class feeling stressed as they always turn up late. Perhaps the study group you belonged to last term is now too far for you to make it on time after your last class of the day, or your new schedule means you volunteering twice a week seriously cuts into your study time or impacts how much sleep you can squeeze in.
Just because something has become a habit or routine, it doesn’t mean you have to continue doing it no matter what. Identify what is no longer working for you, and find ways in which you can change, tweak, or drop these and replace them with something more sustainable and less stressful.
Foster a more positive mindset and increase your confidence
When we are feeling negative, it can be hard to reframe our thoughts and focus on a completely different, more positive spin. It’s all well and good to be told to write lists about things we are thankful for, or to focus on what makes us happy, but we aren’t always in the right place to jump straight into this.
If you’re feeling particularly down or have had an awful day, try writing down a list of everything that has gone wrong, made you upset, or just outright sucked today or over the last week. Put everything down on paper. Had a bad hair day? Failed an assignment? Ended up late to class? Write it down.
Now, go back and add the word ‘but’ to each of those sentences. Think of something that went ok or turned out better than expected. It could just be a tiny way in which you managed to make it through the bad day that you may not have considered before, or a way in which you can turn that negative into a positive in the upcoming days. For example
I had a bad hair day… but I had the confidence to go to class anyway.
I failed my assignment… but I can email my lecturer to ask for tips on where I went wrong.
I was late to class… but I spent time connecting with my dorm mate on the way to class, and I am glad I took the time to get to know them better.
You don’t have to reframe things perfectly. You can still acknowledge and feel those negatives, but by remembering to add on a small positive or change we can make to help things feel better, we can reframe negative experiences and reinforce the ways in which they have or can still help us.
Keep calm, banish stress and overcome anxiety
Journaling can help us to explore and release our emotions, thoughts and feelings. When we name what we have been feeling and put it down on paper, we acknowledge our emotions, accept that what we are feeling is valid – it is ok to feel how we feel – while moving one step closer to releasing these feelings and thoughts.
By putting a name to our feelings, we can take away some of their power, release our anxiety around that negative or stressful emotion, and begin to understand, unravel, and tackle what was making us feel this way.
Take a moment to reflect. What is making you feel anxious or unsettled? Write down everything you can think, leaving a two to three line gap between each item. Once you have everything written down, go back to the beginning and start asking yourself: why? Asking this at least three times can help you uncover what is really making you feel anxious or stressed. For example:
I hate my dorms. Why?
Because they’re too loud when I’m trying to study. Why?
Because I don’t go to the library when I need to study. Why?
Because I’m nervous about meeting new people while I’m there.
The reason why we feel stressed, upset or anxious may not actually be what we initially think it is. It may seem a little annoying at first, but embrace your inner curious child and keep asking why until you get down to what is really bothering you.
Keep track of small moments of happiness and preserve our happy memories
Remembering the big things is easy; it’s the small moments of happiness every day that could make us smile fondly when looking back that are easy to forget. Journaling can help us preserve these moments, cherish them, and appreciate them when we are struggling in the future.
Write a thank-you note or letter to yourself. It can be as short or as long as you need; focus on what you are thankful for today or over the past week. Try to remember and appreciate every individual thing you have done for yourself and your own well-being. These could be small moments you have taken, like having coffee and having a quiet moment for yourself before class; giving yourself extra time to lay-in after a stressful day; or bigger things like taking up a new, mindful hobby.
Reflect and thank yourself for taking the time to explore and release your emotions, positive or negative, so future-you doesn’t have to worry about holding on to them, can learn and let them go. Record the moments that made today memorable, good or bad, so you can take the time to sit, make peace with them, reflect, and help prepare for a new day ahead.
Whether you are new to journaling or are looking to make it a more regular part of your routine, try to remember: you don’t need to censor yourself. Write openly, honestly, imperfectly. Your journal can be as private or as public as you want. There is no right or wrong way to journal.
Use this time and process as a way to gain emotional release. Don’t stop to edit or make corrections. If a prompt makes you stumble or feel stuck, drop it and just write from the heart. Start writing and keep going until it feels natural to stop. Let your train of thought unravel, as you explore the thoughts and feelings you may not have previously taken the time to face. Let go and just be.