Ways To Use Journaling To Unwind And De-Stress
By: American Nurses Association
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, nurses are finding fresh, socially-safe ways to take care of their mental health. Burnout is a prevalent issue for more of us than ever before, so it’s important to find helpful practices to avoid it.
One way to do this is through journaling. Did you keep a journal as a child or young adult? After you wrote your thoughts on paper, how did it make you feel? Think of journaling as having a relationship with your mind. For many people, journaling brings a sense of relief, like a weight has been lifted from their shoulders. That makes it a perfect stress-reliever for busy, over-extended nurses.
There are so many mental health benefits to journaling, including:
- Reducing stress
- Processing difficult emotions
- Stimulating personal growth
- Promoting calm and peace
- Improving anxiety symptoms
- Increasing cognitive function
There’s science behind the benefits of journaling. As you write, you use the analytical, rational left side of the brain. While your left hemisphere is busy writing, your right hemisphere (which is more of the creative, emotional side) can explore and unleash its full potential.
As beneficial as journaling is, it can be difficult to get started. What do you write in your journal? How do you keep it going each day without running out of ideas? And how do you keep it from becoming a chore? Consider these ideas to keep the creativity flowing:
Put it on your to-do list every day
You don’t have to spend tons of time journaling. Instead, mark it on your daily to-do list for approximately 10 minutes each day. Perhaps you have a few quiet moments in the morning when you enjoy a cup of coffee. Start journaling then. Or maybe you have some free time in the evening after the kids go to bed.
Some people grab a pen and paper in the middle of the night, when a worry or fear keeps them from sleeping. They release it through writing — using journaling as a mechanism to clear their mind. When daylight comes, the journaler can read their own writing, reevaluate the worry, and hopefully, let it go.
No matter what time of day you choose, make an effort to write every day.
Find a few minutes in your busy schedule that work best for you.
Write what feels right
What you write about is your choice. This journal is meant to clear your mind, so you decide what will help make that happen. The pandemic has created a lot of stress, frustration, worry, grief, and even anger. Journaling it out is a great way to heal from COVID-19 experiences or traumatic events. It’s also the perfect place to express gratitude for the good things in your life, like your health, family, and friends.
When it comes to writing, your options are endless. Do you want to wing it and decide what to write each time you sit down and open the journal? Is action-oriented journaling more your style? Or do you want to follow a list of pre-determined prompts? No matter which end of the spectrum you fall, your topic opportunities are endless.
Try journaling ideas like:
- Unsent letter: Write a letter you know you won’t send — tell the person exactly how you feel, knowing there are no repercussions
- Gratitude: Write down things in your life that you’re most thankful for
- Intuition: Write down a question you have, then create a response from your intuition
- Stream-of-consciousness: Those thoughts rambling through your mind — write them down, free of judgment
You decide who (if anyone) sees your journal
Don’t be surprised if you get an intense thought down on paper and realize it deserves to be read by someone else in your life. Sometimes writing things down is easier than speaking. But if, on the other hand, you choose to keep your journal entirely to yourself, that’s OK too. Journaling to unwind is time for yourself and should benefit you. Share it if you want, or keep it to yourself.
Follow daily journal prompts if it’s easier
If you choose to, you can write freely as your pen translates your mind’s bearings. Or you can pick from a list of journal prompts. Here are a few ideas if you’d prefer the latter:
- Finish the sentence, “Right now, I am…” Then finish the sentence, “I want to be…”
- What are some things/people/opportunities/privileges/everyday occurrences I am grateful for? How do these positively impact my life and why am I grateful for them?
- One way I could love myself more is….
- What past challenge has turned out to serve me? What was the silver lining? How might my current situation serve me?
- Write a letter to your younger self. What advice can you give them to better navigate their mental health?
- What fears am I holding onto that are no longer serving me? How can I release these?
Re-read your journal entries
As you build up your inventory of journal entries, take a few moments to hop back to pages written weeks or months ago. Skim them and bring yourself back to the memory of where you were. Stop, take a deep breath, and think about how far you’ve come since writing that entry. Let a sense of pride wash over you. You were there, but now you are here, and you have every right to feel accomplished for how far you’ve come!
Find Your Inner Writer
If writing is something that calms you and brings you happiness, journaling could be a great hobby to try. It’s relatively easy, inexpensive, and has multiple mental health benefits. What’s not to love?
Have you visited the Well-Being Initiative? This initiative was launched by the American Nurses Foundation in partnership with ANA, AACN, APNA, ENA and AORN. Along with many other resources, they offer a five-week guided writing program called Narrative Expressive Writing. Learn more about it.
Do you journal as a way to de-stress? What advice do you have for someone who’s just diving in? Share them with us in the discussion below.