Okay, so maybe I won’t go that far. I believe everyone needs therapy, and I mean everyone, whether you think you need it or not. But if you can’t find the time to see a shrink, or you are uncomfortable with the idea of spilling your innermost thoughts and feelings to a complete stranger, I would recommend getting those thoughts down on paper, so long as the sheets are not bound inside the leather of Tom Riddle’s diary.
Consistent with the stigma of seeking mental help, opening up about one’s feelings on paper is something many people shy away from. The benefits of communicating your feelings are insurmountable, and the first step, communicating with yourself, is something we often forget to do. When life gets too hard to manage, being comfortable with sharing your feelings can make a world of difference.
Recently, my best friend told me about how she began journaling when a therapist recommended she take to a notebook to vent when she felt she had no one else to turn to. Sometimes we feel awkward or burdensome coming to the people in our lives with our problems, and sometimes we don’t even want a response; we just need to get our thoughts out of our heads.
My friend wrote letters to her ex-boyfriend that she would never send, letters to herself about why she should avoid her ex-boyfriend, letters to herself if she ever gave in to her ex again. She admitted to me that reading those back helped put her feelings into perspective, helped sort the jumble of thoughts that it seemed she could not untangle without making them tangible. The best part about journaling, she said, was that she could see her progress right in front of her. As the months went by, giving her time to heal, she was able to see the fruit of the work she put into bettering her mental health.
Not everyone keeps journals for venting; music artists, like Chris Martin and Harry Styles, use journals as a creative outlet and artistic log. Martin unloads his thoughts on paper daily, no doubt inspiring future song lyrics, while Styles preserves the moments that inspire him in a worn-in leather-bound notebook recognizable to most super fans.
Other kinds of journaling help take account of our days. Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln kept journals of their lives and work, and it is said that Queen Elizabeth follows in the footsteps of her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria by keeping a diary. It is important for some to keep record of the most important experiences of their lives to look back on, like a time capsule. If we can do anything to bring ourselves closer to the Greats, journaling may be the most accessible avenue. And who knows, your own journal could become a historical artifact to be read for generations to come.
Nobody’s perfect; I can attribute my inconsistency with journaling to a lack of self-discipline. I tried the traditional ‘Dear Diary’ route in middle school, which lasted less than a week, then began a daily blog when Tumblr gained popularity in high school. I quickly forgot I even had a blog. My true experience with journaling began a few years ago, and I hadn’t even realized it. I started to collect artifacts from my life – concert tickets, brochures, and stickers – and pasted them inside a notebook, giving them small captions.
Later, I acquired an appreciation for literature, poetry, and music, and felt the need to scribble down Taylor Swift lyrics and Beau Taplin stanzas as I came across them, worrying I would forget them if I only stored them in my memory. As I began to hone my own writing skills, I filled the pages of my Notes app on my iPhone with original content. In any given time or place, when inspiration strikes the way I imagine it does for Mr. Styles, or a feeling persists too strongly to be stored as synapses in my brain, I take out my phone and make sure to get the idea down as quickly as possible. Poetry is usually what spills out of me. It’s not traditional, and there is no linear format, but who says journaling has to have rules?
So whether you are like me and you like to take down your favorite song lyrics and affix them to a significant feeling or experience, or you keep a notebook ready for when innovative inspiration sparks, the biggest benefit to writing leisurely is becoming a better communicator. The ability to write well, and in turn speak well, is second-to-none in the skills you will need to find success in your desired industry, so write away!