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As a freelance writer, most of my days consist of writing. Writing articles, writing to-do lists, writing emails. Writing, writing, writing. But, hey, I chose this career for a reason: I love to write. And though some projects can feel monotonous, I rarely forget just how lucky I am to be paid to do the thing that I’ve always loved to do. Long before this became my career, I’d spend my evenings writing in journals and diaries—jotting down notes about everything and nothing. Major life milestones. The latest episode of American Idol. My favorite sports teams. My greatest anxieties. From when I was 10 years-old to well after college, I kept a journal. And though I wrote more regularly some years than others, it always served as an outlet for me. When I started full-time freelance writing, though, this changed. I no longer could find the energy to write for me or for free.
When the pandemic happened, though, I began to think about journaling again. I found myself remembering the feeling of writing just for the sake of writing. Not to make a deadline or to get a paycheck or to complete an assignment, but simply to write because I liked how it made me feel. As the months went on and it became clear that staying home would become the norm, I felt my anxiety rising. The light at the end of the tunnel that is 2020 seemed further and further away, and it became clear to me that if I was going to get through all of this with my mental health intact that I’d have to prioritize myself. And that meant prioritizing creativity. More specifically, it meant prioritizing journaling and writing for myself.
So for a month, I made myself write (almost) every day. Sometimes I’d whip up a few paragraphs about how it felt to exist right now. Other times I’d jot down a few memories about summer 2020 that I wouldn’t want to forget. Sometimes, I wrote about nothing at all — a favorite television show or movie. Other times, I wrote fiction. Built stories from scratch simply for the sake of creating them. And though the practice didn’t eliminate my anxiety about COVID-19 and the world today, it did help me feel more at peace with myself than I had in a long time. Here are some of the biggest ways it helped.
I Spent Time Away From Social
For starters, the habit of writing every day for me helped me spend time off of social media — something that is increasingly difficult to do these days. Instead of ending each day by scrolling, I would spend time writing for myself, letting my brain get engrossed in expressing myself instead of comparing myself. As Psychotherapist Jennifer Tomko, LCSW of Clarity Health Solutions, tells me over email, this makes sense from a mental health perspective.
“Journaling and blogging are great outlets to express yourself, and don’t come with the judgment and comparison of social media. It’s more one-sided,” Tomko wrote.
As someone who spends a lot of time writing for editors and an audience on Instagram, this was powerful for me. No one had to approve of what I was writing. I just had to write.
I Felt Less Overwhelmed By Daily Problems
There’s something about writing a problem or anxiety down that takes away its power. When I started to regularly write about the things bothering me, I almost immediately felt less overwhelmed. It didn’t eliminate all my anxiety, but it did make it easier for me to find logical solutions to everyday problems and stressors.
As movement and mindset expert Nadia Murdock shares over email, identifying ways that you can improve your situation is one of the most helpful aspects of writing exercises and journaling. “Your brain begins to accept that there are ways to feel better just by putting pen to paper,” Murdock says.
I Discovered Thoughts and Feelings I Didn’t Know I Had
It turns out that forcing myself to put my thoughts into words actually helped me identify thoughts and feelings I didn’t realize I had before. As I worked through certain events or situations, I’d find myself writing about things I had never expected. It felt like I was getting to know myself again.
Dr. Mark Mayfield is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), Board Certified Counselor, and Founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Center who calls journaling an “amazing tool.” Mayfield also shares that discovering new thoughts and feelings through journaling is normal, and an amazing benefit.
“When you take a pen and write something out on paper, there is a physical release of stress. I call this a brain dump and there is a physiological response to writing it out. Once out on paper, then you have a greater ability to look at the emotion, frustration or situation from a more objective opinion,” Mayfield says.
I can’t say that journaling completely changed how I feel about 2020 as a whole. I’m still anxious, frustrated, and find it hard to imagine a time where things will feel normal again. But it did help me reconnect with a creative, introspective part of my brain that I hadn’t been in touch with for a while. It made me feel good. And though things aren’t perfect, finding new ways of feeling good is something to be celebrated this year, I think.