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  • Writer's pictureSteve Watts

There are three rules for writing {…} Unfortunately no one knows what they are! (W Somerset Maugham)

Updated: May 7, 2022

'I have turned 180 degrees in my life thanks to journaling.'

Sunderland Recovery College course member

Next week is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK with the theme of loneliness. As we come out of the final ‘lock down’ restrictions the challenge now seems to be the anxiety of re-emerging into society. The Mental Health Foundation has been researching our experiences of the Pandemic and its impact on our health

Research by the Mental Health Foundation shows that one of the key experiences for people in the ‘post-pandemic’ world is loneliness and many organisations have been preparing to highlight this issue amongst their staff and the wider community, including Northumbria University where I work, as well as the mental health charity MIND, along with many others.

Loneliness was an issue that was raised during the Introduction to Journaling for Wellbeing course I ran for Sunderland Recovery College during January to March earlier this year. One way the students chose to address this was to meet up regularly for a walk, catch up and cuppa. They also shared mobile numbers and kept in touch with each other in between the catchups.

Last week the Sunderland Recovery College students returned for their follow-on journaling course. On meeting again they shared their experiences of journaling between the end of the first course in March and the start of the new course. All of them had continued with their journaling practice, but equally importantly they had stayed in touch and maintained the routines they had established during the spring course, making sure that nobody was left to feel alone. During one of the weeks we all met up again in my room at St Peter’s Gate to share experiences and maintain the contact with each other.

In sharing their thoughts about journaling since the end of the first course in March one student confirmed that they felt that their ‘journal had become their friend.’ They said that they had been looking back at what they had written since they first started the course in January and were shocked to see how far they had come in just a few weeks of journaling. This is one of the most powerful benefits of journaling – it’s a private record in print of your thoughts at the time and charts your journey, which sometimes can be painful.

Another student confirmed that they liked to capture their thoughts in the moment as they arose so as not to lose their immediacy by writing them up later on. For this they used their phone and in a play on words changed the maxim ‘don’t think it ink it’ into ‘don’t think it type it.’ Traditionally we tend to think of a journal as something that is written on paper with a pen and written at the end of the day as a review of the day’s feelings, thoughts and events. In the 21st Century we have access to hand-held technology which makes it possible to capture thoughts instantly. We might not always have paper and pen to hand, but we are never separated from our phones! ‘Capture it or forget it’ is this student’s motto! There are many journaling apps that are available if that is your preference. This hyper-link takes you to a review of six of them, but there are many more and there will be one that suits your approach to journaling

Another student stated that journaling had changed her thinking to a much more positive outlook. She confirmed that 'the gratitude journal format with its prompts helps structure her thinking. Journaling has helped her move forward and live for today and not dwell in the past.' This student sees journaling as a journey but recognises that it is not a straight path. Michelle Williams (2022) in her new book The Daily Check-In: A 60-day Journey to Finding your Strength, Faith and Wholeness reminds us that ‘journaling is an invitation to freedom but sometimes the road is messy’ (pvi).

One student stated that since starting their journaling practice she cannot believe that she now experiences something positive every day. She confided that she had never experienced anything like that before and feels that she has ‘turned a full 180 degrees in her life.’ This student, along with all the other students on the course, has achieved this by journaling every day and it is this process that helps turn around our thought processes. As Paula Gooder (2022) states in her recent book Journaling the Psalms: A Guide for Reflection and Prayer ‘journaling encourages you to write down your thoughts and feelings, and by doing that to untangle what you really think and feel’ (p8).

W Somerset Maugham famously said ‘There are three rules for writing {…} Unfortunately no one knows what they are.’ If I had to guess then I would say (1) write (2) write some more and (3) keep writing! I'm pretty sure my journaling students would agree with me!

'Journaling has helped me move forward and live for today and not dwell in the past.'

Sunderland Recovery College course member

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