Journaling is a habit I hope to keep for the rest of my life. Putting pen to paper helps me process whatever I am thinking and feeling as well as document my life in a meaningful way. My journal has been an indispensable tool in navigating uncertain times in my life, which is why I want to share my experiences to hopefully convince you to try journaling.
Journaling can be beneficial for one’s mental health, including managing anxiety, stress, and depressive symptoms. Journaling can also be a helpful way to understand how you are feeling by putting it into words.
As I have remarked in a past column, I started a gratitude journal in January 2018. After my parents separated and divorced that summer, I expanded my journal to write more about my thoughts and feelings. I kept journaling throughout my first two years of college.
Then COVID-19 hit. Many people — including myself — turned to journaling to document their pandemic experiences, tend to their mental health, or have agency over something. I am grateful that I have kept a journal during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic because I have been able to process what I saw, what I lost, and what I gained over time.
I am not only keeping a journal for myself. I am documenting my life for posterity, especially for my family descendants. I wonder what they will think of my thoughts and feelings, just like I wonder what my ancestors were thinking as they encountered big changes in their lives.
I wonder what my ancestors were thinking when they migrated to America before settling in Montreal and Chicago. What was my French Canadian ancestor Urbain Tessier dit Lavigne thinking when he was captured by Native Americans? What was on my late paternal grandfather’s mind when he was a child during World War II and a new parent during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
What did my ancestors want and what did they fear? How did they feel when life-altering events happened, whether it be a wedding or a war? How did they search for meaning in their lives? Unfortunately, I am unable to ask these questions directly to my ancestors who have perished. I hope that my journal entries can answer at least some of my descendants’ questions.
Someone may object and say that social media is all they need to document their life. I would respond that journaling provides a unique outlet for private self-reflection where you can write whatever is on your mind. Social media is made for an audience, and not everything is meant to be shared with others. In my journal, I feel I can explore my thoughts and feelings that I would not feel comfortable posting online.
Keeping a journal can also keep an accurate log of how our past selves made important decisions. For instance, I’ve been second guessing myself about my decision to take a gap year to work before applying to law school. Recently, I’ve looked back at my journal entries about why I wanted to pursue law school and why I decided to take a gap year, which has given me more clarity about why I made that decision last fall.
Paradoxically, I am both excited about my future possibilities and worried about not receiving any job offers. Writing about my mixed emotions can be helpful, even in brief snippets.
Here’s an example of something I wrote before my moral psychology class recently: “I feel anxious & afraid about post-grad plans. How can I convert this angst into energy? My mind feels empty and my motivation depleted. I’ll figure this out.” After this entry, I wrote responses to some real-time resilience prompts, such as framing a more productive way that I can see my uncertainty.
I understand that I am not alone in feeling stressed about post-commencement life, yet I feel that there are very few outlets to express my anxiety without constraints. Luckily, journaling has been one of those outlets for me.
While I cannot predict my future, I can shape it, which is one reason I find journaling so empowering. It is an activity where I can communicate whatever is on my mind, whether I am creating a checklist of goals for the day or checking in with myself when I am feeling down.
If you haven’t taken up journaling before, I hope you will try it out. We all have a story; I hope you will write yours.
JADEN CLOOBECK is a College fourth year from Laguna Beach, Calif. studying psychology. His email address is email@example.com.