Man outside journalling

Journalling as a Coping Strategy

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Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent more time alone than at any other time in my life. This is obviously linked to all things Covid, and I know many other people are in the same boat. I’m also estranged from my closest family members — my sister lives abroad and I’m only in occasional contact with my father, mostly by letter. I don’t have any other relatives I’m in touch with regularly, either because they have passed away or there are just no historical bonds.

In this article, I wanted to share a little about how journalling has kept me mentally stable during the times of immense frustration and loneliness that I have sometimes felt over the last couple of years, during the lockdowns and even in-between lockdowns with the constant societal upheaval related to Covid.

Everyone knows that electronic communications are not private these days. I don’t know about you, but when I write emails I’m always cautious about what I write, not knowing which crawlers, robots, or even human beings might be scanning my messages. I don’t often share personal thoughts on this blog, partly because I want the blog to be focused on philosophy and theology and partly because of the lack of privacy and not knowing who might be reading from the shadows. You might call this paranoid, but the world is Big Brother on steroids these days, there’s no denying it.

So I have taken to journalling to express my thoughts — those thoughts that I don’t feel comfortable sharing online. Since 2019 I have completed no less than twelve extra large Moleskine journals! Here’s the evidence:

Excuse the fact they are a little dusty!

I’m not going to share any images from inside the journals because my handwriting is awful. I shared in my interview with Collin Cooper the story of how during a spell in psychiatric hospital I re-taught myself to write from scratch, making all my letters look entirely different. I can’t really explain why I did this, but my handwriting is a real mess as a result. It’s a jumble of connected letters mixed with isolated letters and f’s and t’s that haven’t been crossed and big letters mixed with small letters — I don’t know whether anyone apart from me would be able to make any sense of it. If I write very slowly I can make it neat, but I don’t usually write slowly, so it’s often a mess (I’m probably exaggerating a little). Maybe at some point I’ll share some examples!

The subject matter of my journal entries is very varied. Normally, I start by putting the date and saying what time of day it is, then I just share whatever thoughts come to mind, whatever they are, even if it’s something as mundane as ‘I’m drinking a cup of tea’ or ‘I’m thinking about taking a shower’. I don’t know why, but I find it immensely therapeutic simply writing openly about what’s going on in my mind, whatever it is. I also sometimes draft blog posts and compose prayers in my journals, as well as brainstorming ideas like my plans for a particular project, or a budget, for instance. I would certainly say writing out the Psalms in my journals, particularly Psalm 37, got me through some of the toughest times I’ve ever experienced.

Recently I was thinking about what to do with all these journals. I don’t want to throw them away, despite my inclinations towards minimalism, because they have been such an important outlet for me and I therefore consider them valuable. It would certainly be interesting to look back through them in the years to come. Perhaps at some point I will give them away as a competition prize or something — if someone else were to read them they would certainly be entertained, of that I’m quite sure!

Committing my thoughts to paper has helped me a lot at times when I’ve been feeling anxious. For example, when I was waiting for a grocery delivery once I managed to fill quite a few pages of a journal, because there was a two-hour delivery slot and I always get anxious waiting for deliveries (for reasons I won’t go into). Writing down my thoughts kept me distracted from clock-watching and made the time pass quickly and lessened my anxiety considerably.

I know there are different styles of journalling, like bullet-journalling for example, but I haven’t felt the need to look into these because journalling for me is generally not about planning. I do my planning on my computer using various apps — my journals are much more of a general mind dump (bad choice of phrase, perhaps ‘thought repository’ would be more apt!).

There’s something amazing about writing in a journal. I know you probably all understand this because you’re writers. I think it’s a bit like having a conversation but without another person, so it’s a great way to combat loneliness, as well as a way of giving expression and coherence to thoughts which might otherwise be lost forever.


Do you have a passion for journalling? What do you use your journal for? Are you concerned about privacy when writing online? And do you get frustrated that I use the English spelling of journalling rather than the American ‘journaling’? Comments below! ✍🏻

31 comments

  1. I definitely agree. As someone who has been journalling since ten years old, writing my thoughts on paper has been way more helpful and therapeutical to me (more than speaking to people, sometimes).

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    1. That’s wonderful that you started journalling so young. I agree that it can be more helpful than talking to someone, sometimes we have thoughts that we feel others simply wouldn’t understand or relate to. Thanks for reading! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really love this post. I have a lot of the same emotions around journaling and it brings me a lot of peace. One of my upcoming pending blogs is also about journaling. Seeing your pile of journals makes me wish I didn’t shred mine when they are complete. I may have to save some.

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  3. It was interesting reading about your journal keeping. I recently moved and people had to lift a bodies weight in a trunk of journals I just haven’t been able to part with. It’s our stories- the little people of life – that get lost in time. I hope our journals outlast us.

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      1. Hi Steven I have tried to reread them, type them into word and scan them I just couldn’t do it. When I read them it’s so visceral. I don’t have anyone to pass them on to either. I have this funny delusion of aliens some day finding my trunk and it helping them figure out what happened to us lol.

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        1. I suppose it’s sad, in a way, the possibility that so much thought and creativity could be lost. Maybe aliens will discover them! But I can’t help but think of Ecclesiastes and how everything is ultimately meaningless. I guess you might just have to ‘let go’. Same goes for me and my journals. Perhaps Alex has the right idea and shredding them all is the way to go! But I guess you don’t have to decide what to do with them now (as long as you have space), you never know what might happen in the future.

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  4. I used to journal, partially to write my Significant Dreams down and also the thoughts I was working through, spiritually. I haven’t done so in quite a while. I personally began this particulate blog because I had this thought that keeping all my writing to myself benefited really no one except myself. I had decided to share my thoughts artistically and if I could help just six or twenty people, then it was worth it. Doing so helping me immensely for a few years.

    As for English spelling, it never bothers me to read it since my favorite authors are UK authors, I’m just used to it. 🙂

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    1. I used to write my dreams down as well! In fact, I think that was why I began journalling, must have been around 2003. I like the fact that you thought about benefiting others with your writing, it can definitely help others when people share deeply personal things online, scary as it may be.

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      1. It was just that I was going through a major introspective time and knowing I needed to make a huge change. And I’ve always been a writer and an artist. I needed to get back to that.

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  5. Oh and as for privacy, I am concerned to the point that I don’t share private personal things (such as about my home or family life). I keep it very separate. Though I’m not as worried about emails because I’m not anyone special, I don’t worry about some robot or person reading my emails. So I don’t mind discussing my personal life that way. Or on Telegram. But social media or blog? No. I don’t trust that.

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    1. Maybe I’m overly paranoid about it. But you see the way advertising works, how we are targeted based on things we’ve written in our emails, and I know for a fact this is how advertising works these days. I realise that’s not necessarily a major concern for most people though.

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  6. For many years, I wrote daily entries into a journal. Writing can certainly be a therapeutic outlet. The common misconception about it, however, is the “right way to journal.” There is no “right way.” This is a private activity with no rules other than writing what you please.

    Sadly, I have not been writing nearly as much as I should. Now that we live off-grid, chores keep me occupied. While it is no excuse, it is a reason. I must resolve to put my thoughts down more often again.

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    1. I totally agree with you that there is no right or wrong way. For example, I like to use four different coloured pens in my journalling – it’s not something I saw anyone else doing it just suits me. As you say, there are no rules!

      I can imagine living off-grid keeps you very busy. Perfectly understandable. Maybe when you find yourself with some free time you can pick it up the writing again.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  7. Lovely post. My journals are basically just notebooks for freewriting. I don’t have any fancy systems like bullet journalling either. For me, journalling is learning to listen to myself. Anyway, I loved this, Steven. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hey Stuart! Thank you for your kind comment. Notebooks for freewriting — yes, that’s probably how I would describe my use of journals as well! No rules, just whatever comes to mind. They are just a wonderful tool for self-expression. Cheers!

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