How to Start a Journaling Habit

Here's why you should add pen and paper to your mental-health toolkit during tough times. 

By Laura Rubin
woman writing at window

Needless to say, it is not business as usual these days. But you don’t have to feel like you’re in a slow-motion train wreck while the world is figuring out which way is up. Rather than being completely at the will of the news cycle, you do have some say in the matter.

You probably already know about certain tools you have in your corner to help soothe your nervous system and get you grounded — such as meditation, yoga, sleep, self-care and community, just to name a few. But two of the most powerful tools are right at your fingertips, likely at this very moment: pen and paper. These are my go-to allies at the moment, and I want you to get to know them, too.

Putting pen to paper is a deceptively basic activity, one we frequently associate with making to-do lists and scribbling on post-it notes. But don’t let its simplicity fool you: Writing is a deeply transformative, alchemical practice.

Don’t let its simplicity fool you: Writing is a deeply transformative, alchemical practice.

Whether you already have a regular journaling practice or recent events are inspiring you to create one, there’s very good news: There is a direct, proven link between journaling and strengthening your immune system, establishing mental hygiene and general emotional well-being. And who doesn’t want some more of that these days (or ever, really)?

Here, my top three tips on how to establish your own journaling practice, regardless of your writing experience.

1

Find the best time of day to begin

Experiment with what time of day is most supportive and logistically accessible for your journaling practice. Maybe it’s in the morning over your go-to cup of caffeination? Or at night in bed to help wring out your mind before getting some much needed shut-eye? Or perhaps it’s in the afternoon while the kids are down for a nap. 

Then, establish a writing "nook" that you like and claim it as your own. It could be a favorite chair, a sunny perch in the backyard or in the tub. Whatever feels good, go towards that. This is a time of embracing simple pleasures, going back to basics.

2

Keep it consistent

When things feel out of control, the nature of ritual is immensely steadying. It helps by providing some structure and consistency in a world where those elements may feel in short supply. Sameness might sound deadly boring under normal circumstances but when nothing feels “the same,” it is terribly disorienting. Once you’ve identified the time and location that works best for you, take a few minutes to download your thoughts onto the page in order to process and release emotions.

3

Let it all out

It’s a given that bottled-up emotion is fundamentally unhealthy and can be intensely toxic over time. In extreme circumstances we may be afraid of expressing our feelings, as if some dam of compartmentalization would break and we wouldn’t be able to recover. That’s fear running the show.

The page is a safe place to process your emotional experience. Even things you don’t feel comfortable saying out loud can be written down without consequence and it can be immensely cathartic to externalize them.

Personally, I feel a lot lighter after I’ve had a good journaling session, more buoyant. It’s as if I dropped off my emotional luggage on the page and was able to move forward minus the checked bags. While we’re all staying close to home at the moment, let’s take this opportunity to unpack emotionally — with a little help from our allies.

Laura Rubin is the founder of AllSwell Creative and a journaling expert. During the month of April, AllSwell is donating 15% of online sales to Meals on Wheels' COVID-19 Response Fund to provide meals for homebound seniors.

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