STUDENT BLOG: Hidden benefits of keeping a journal

Consider turning your back on social media and setting off on a journey of self-discovery instead says LOUISE SMITH, who points out that in writing about your experience of the current global crisis you will also be documenting history

AS someone who has kept a journal for the best part of six years, I believe it is a must-have for people of any age in this fast-paced, modern world.

Unfortunately, over the years keeping a diary has been labelled, rather misogynistically, by society as something teenage girls do in order to confess their unconditional love for pop idols or rant about their best friends in secrecy.

I want to abolish these negative stereotypes and promote journalling as something anyone can do to relieve stress and connect with themselves in a healthy, creative way.

The hidden benefits of journalling are practically endless. In a world where our value as a successful human being is based on how aesthetic our Instagram photos are, it’s incredibly difficult to escape judgement from our peers and wider society - especially in secondary school!

Sometimes it feels like everyone’s eyes are on you constantly, scrutinising your every move. One of the amazing things about writing in a safe, personal space is that you are able to abandon the pressure of fitting into the mould society has given you.

It is the opposite of social media, totally private: a sanctuary for you, and you alone.

Journalling serves as an incredible memory keeper. Imagine being able to look back on your life five, ten, fifteen, or even fifty years from now. By writing regularly about your day, you are essentially building up an archive of your own life: your life-story. How amazing would it be to have a collection of physically bound books, penned by yourself, to look back on? I promise you; this log will prove priceless.

When you are writing so much, it is inevitable that your writing abilities will improve as well. For budding or already-established creative writers, journalists and editors, journalling is a definite must. In an age of advancing technology, once could argue that writers are becoming less and less important. However, this is simply not the case. In fact, I would say they are in more demand than ever! As coronavirus sweeps the globe, we need more people to come forward and tell their stories. The arts are suffering terribly amidst this pandemic, so it important to keep creating, keep talking- keep writing.

Think of those who have come before you when you sit down to write. One of my personal inspirations is Anne Frank, the thirteen-year-old whose words have reached generation after generation. With more than thirty-one million copies sold in sixty-seven languages, The Diary of a Young Girl is said to be the most read book on the planet apart from the Bible. Now, I’m not saying you should keep a journal purely for fame, but in writing down your experiences of the current global crisis you will be documenting history.

Memoirs of a pandemic survivor will be undoubtably priceless in the future and historians will treasure any primary evidence from the fateful period in time we are living through right now.

This question may seem rather frank, but: Do you really know yourself? I imagine most of you are answering ‘No’. Well, fear not, because journalling is the ultimate tool for figuring out who you are. When you are writing in a notebook about yourself, to yourself, you will quickly discover more about yourself. If you have any past trauma, or unresolved issues in your life, journalling will allow you to track, explore and overcome them. We all have an element of healing to do, for whatever reason, and a diary can help one do so in a non-toxic environment. Now more than ever, self-love is so important. We should all be more forgiving and accept ourselves for who we are.

In lockdown, we have no doubt experienced increased difficulty in controlling our emotions, and I’m sure we’ve all had our fair share of arguments with family. I encourage you to use your journal to, if nothing else, just rant! Sometimes, we all need a place to go and let off steam, but unfortunately most of us don’t have one. If you’ve just had a blazing row with your mum, dad, child or friend, I encourage you to remove yourself from the heat of the moment and take the time to sit down, in solitude, with a notebook and pen. As my favourite online journaller, Tina Cody, once said: “Dump it on the page before you dump it on someone you love.”

Journaling is a brilliant tool for those with mental health issues. Within the last year, psychological problems have skyrocketed in the general population. Depression, anxiety and stress is increasingly common and, sadly, students are becoming increasingly susceptible. In your journal, you can track triggers and identify irregular thought and behavioural patterns. Why not describe in detail how you feel physically? Focus on your breath, heartbeat and muscles. Are they relaxed right now, or tense? Why? These are the kind of questions you could be asking yourself. You could even describe how great you feel when you’re in a fantastic mood. This will serve as a really nice memo to return back to when you feel hopeless or stuck. It will remind you that things do get better!

I’ve found that, in the journalling community, inspiration can be a major downfall. Simply not knowing what to write about can put a person off. Don’t give up! The possibilities really are endless, even if it’s hard to see it. You could write a daily-log and analyse any conversations you’ve had. What did you say? What didn’t you say? What do you wish you had said? How does this relate to bigger things in your life? Write letters that you don’t have to send, expressing your innermost thoughts and desires.

Human beings aren’t always the best at relaying what we really want to say, so it’s extremely cathartic to do so on paper. Log your dreams. Write a poem or story. If you are religious or spiritual, jot down prayers or mantras. Plan your day, school, work and projects. Try gratitude journalilng. Vent. Follow prompts. Sketch or collage. Like I said, the possibilities are endless! If you’re still struggling, there are many great resources online to spark your imagination. I would strongly recommend browsing the internet for inspiration!

These are some of my personal favourite prompts I love to go back to every now and again:

- Things you are grateful for (the smaller the better!)

- Daily plan or to-do list.

- Bucket list (summer? winter? life-long?)

- Create your own playlist. What are your favourite songs to listen to when you are happy, sad, chilled, in need of motivation or in a specific mood?

- What makes you truly happy? What does happiness mean to you? When was the last time you felt it?

- What scares you? Try to dig deep with this one.

- What is one toxic thing or person you need to let go of and why?

- What does your dream life look like? Where do you want to be in the next two, five or ten years?

- If you could talk to one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why? What would you talk about?

- Who is your ultimate role model and why?

- If your most raw, inner self was a physical being, what would he/she/they look like? How would they act and talk? Would they be much different to yourself now?

- What did you dream about last night? Can you relate it to anything happening in your life right now?

- Write a short song, movie or TV show review.

- Do you think you take care of yourself enough? If not, what are some simple things you could do to change this?

- Write a letter to: your future-self, your past-self, your current-self, a friend, a loved one, someone you have lost or a romantic interest (as clichéd as they are, love letters can actually be very cathartic- especially for teenagers!) Remember, the beauty of this activity is that you don’t have to send the letters.

- Make a vision/mood board. This can be based on a holiday, music you like, an experience, fashion or just things that make you happy. It’s always fun to incorporate your own personal photos, too.

The ultimate key to keeping a journal successfully is: BE HONEST. Be honest with yourself and you will get more out of your writing than you could’ve ever imagined. I can guarantee, some of your entries will surprise you. You really don’t need much! Yes, you can splash out on trendy gel pens or stickers, but in its rawest form, journalling really is just a notebook and a pen.

So, go on - try something new in lockdown, and start your own self-discovery journey.