6 Benefits of Journaling
How Journaling Can Help Us Process the Climate Crisis
Tales from the Anthropocene by Jessica Kashdan-Brown
Writing and keeping a journal can be an extremely beneficial process for your mental health. Taking the time and space to remove yourself from the virtual world, put a pen to paper, and just write can be an amazing way to re-center and ground yourself, and to relieve stress — and those are only a few of the benefits. In today’s blog, I’m going to be writing about exactly what those myriad benefits are and how a mindful practice, like journaling, can help in staying positive and engaged while facing the challenges of the climate crisis.
The Benefits of Journaling & Writing
Poets, writers, and storytellers throughout history tell of the cathartic experience that writing can be. Tirelessly and tooth-grindingly attempting to carve words into the shape of a novel or poetry collection is one thing, but writing for no-one but yourself, as a means of processing your own experiences, is another.
It is no secret that journaling can be a powerful tool for helping manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with both. Kathleen Adams, founder of the Centre for Journal Therapy in Colorado and author of Journal to the Self says in her book:
“My therapist listens silently to my most sinister darkness, my most bizarre fantasy, my most cherished dream. And I can scream, whimper, thrash, rage, exult, foam, celebrate. I can be funny, snide, introspective, accusatory, sarcastic, helpless, brilliant, sentimental, profound, caustic, inspirational, opinionated or vulgar. My therapist accepts all of this without comment, judgment, or reprisal.”
Her “therapist” consists of a pen and the cheap spiral-bound notebooks she buys. For Adams, a journal is an emotional outlet without judgement or limits, where you can work through your feelings in a healthy way. Similarly, Anne Frank famously wrote in her own diary, “paper has more patience than people”, making it a place where she could write anything — a place where she could lay out all her fears and hopes one on top of the other and come to terms with them gradually. Paper has more patience than people, but it also allows you to be patient with yourself and to understand yourself better.
The act of turning thoughts to words is a way of cognitive and active processing — it helps you to articulate what you’re feeling and to make it into something real, something tangible, and therefore, manageable. In Kathleen Adams’ paper on writing as therapy, she explores how taking this time to turn thoughts into words can leave you feeling more attuned — a kind of “coming home to yourself”. It allows you to stop and really listen to yourself as you might with someone you cared about — this can be a “potent agent for change, growth, and healing”.
Not only this, but by keeping a journal you are taking control of your thoughts. What you write and what happens to that writing is your decision. You can even burn your words after writing them if you like, but the act of writing itself is the important and transformative part. Whether you ‘journal’ with narrative intent, documenting your experiences, or whether you use your journal as a space to “mind dump”, also known as free writing (a practice where you write for a set amount of time in a stream of consciousness without any regard to neat handwriting, spelling, punctuation, or grammar), the benefits can be vastly rewarding. They can include:
- Providing an unimpeded release of thoughts and emotions, relieving tension and stress
- Finding a sense of clarity and focus, helping to prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
- Reducing the expectations of your own perfection — providing you with awareness, acceptance, and accountability for your own fallibility
- Helping you to identify and articulate your thoughts and ideas
- Problem-solving in helping you to find a way through difficult situations
- A 2002 study by Bridget Murray even suggests that expressive writing may improve immune system functioning
Guided Journaling: Accessing Something Deeper
Keeping a journal, however, is not the same thing as journaling therapy, or guided journaling. Though the benefits of keeping a journal may be potent and constructive for many people as an outlet for processing their feelings surrounding the climate crisis — it can be difficult to know where to start and what to focus on. Freewriting or “mind-dumps” will help to relieve stress, but unstructured as they are they may only be briefly cathartic. Through journaling therapy or guided journaling, it is possible to access something even more deeply rewarding for your mental health.
So, what is the difference between keeping a journal and guided journaling? Well, keeping a journal is a way of recording events as they occurred, which may help deconstruct feelings surrounding those experiences. On the other hand, guided journaling involves exercises or prompts that target specific issues, and involve analysis, interaction, and proactive thought around those issues. According to the Center for Journal Therapy, guided journaling or journal therapy is “the purposeful and intentional use of reflective writing to further mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health and wellness.” In essence, it is journal writing with purpose.
Journaling therapy is a practice used by many trained psychologists to treat conditions such as:
— Stress — Anxiety — Depression — Grief and loss — Life transitions —
It is about delving a little deeper; trying to target and analyze specific concerns or problems, gain new perspectives on our challenges, and create constructive goals and steps for moving forward. Journaling with specific exercises and prompts can help you break out of negative thought patterns by identifying them, interacting with them, and actively constructing new perspectives and approaches to combat them.
How This is Useful in the context of the Climate Crisis
For those that may find themselves experiencing climate anxiety, fatalism/defeatism, depression, ecological and environmental grief, loss, or changes to lifestyle and circumstances — journaling can be a powerful tool for helping treat these conditions.
With the climate crisis, there are so many different angles to the problem that it can feel completely overwhelming. Writing about your day to day life and reflecting on your own relationship with the planet and environmental issues is a very helpful way of coping with stress and anxiety surrounding the climate crisis, but it can be very difficult to know where to begin with such a large issue and sometimes may end up reinforcing negative thought patterns.
By journaling with prompts and exercises, you can target different facets of the climate crisis one at a time, making them feel much more manageable and making taking action seem so much more possible. Specifically, journaling with prompts and exercises can provide the additional benefits of helping to:
- Create and work towards specific climate goals which keep you motivated
- Build healthier, more positive thought patterns surrounding the crisis and your ability to do something meaningful about it
- Gain new perspectives on climate challenges and how to approach them
- Nurture creativity and innovation, both of which are crucial qualities in facing the climate crisis, and will be invaluable in taking action
This kind of journaling, most importantly, allows you to deconstruct the climate crisis while holding on to a sense of hope and possibility, helping you to find silver linings in even the most negative of experiences and to use this as a tool for creating positive change.
Making the Most of Your Journaling Practice
In order to make the most out of your journaling, here are some tips on additional things you can do:
- Write to a set time-frame — this helps to keep you focused
- Return to what you’ve written — an important tool for analysis and processing
- Do something with your writing — you might want to create something else from it, such as: condensing it, listing out your concerns and taking them to your local representatives and/or elected officials, making poetry from it to process your ideas further, taking it to a support group to help you articulate your thoughts better, using it to set goals for yourself or list things you want to work on.
- Be honest with yourself — don’t try to edit yourself to an image of what you’d like to be. Tell the whole truth of where you are at now and then use that in order to design steps towards where you’d like to be in the future
- Practicing wellness — Pair purposeful journaling with other wellness practices like eating a healthy and balanced diet, daily exercise, and getting plenty of sleep
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