Though most people use the terms interchangeably, there is a slight difference between a diary and a journal: A diary is a written log of events and activities, while a journal is a more flexible record of experiences and personal reflections. A person may journal to track their moods, habits or symptoms. In recent years, bullet journaling has become a popular approach.
In whatever form you choose, journaling is a constructive way to pause and check in with yourself each day. Because writing allows you to process your feelings privately, it can be a great tool for emotional regulation. If you are interested in giving journaling a try, here are some things to consider.
The right medium
Getting started is simple: All you need is a sheet of paper and a writing implement. If you are so inclined, you can type notes on your phone or computer. There are also apps for Mac, Windows and iOS users that can help you customize the experience.
Although you do not need an expensive journal — anything you have on hand will work — choose something you know you will enjoy using. This is the perfect time to go through any abandoned notebooks you have laying around. Books with unlined pages are useful for visual media, such as drawings or collages.
Time and space
If starting a daily journaling habit sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. Even as a lifelong diarist, I sometimes struggle to write every day. Consistency is key: Try to adhere to a regular schedule, whether that means journaling once a day or once a week. Writing at the same time (and in the same place) each day will also help the habit stick.
When you create room in your schedule for your new routine, remember that no amount of time is too short; even writing for a few minutes each day can have a big impact over time. You can use a timer, a digital calendar or a paper to-do list to stay on track.
If possible, journal in a private space. You want to be able to explore your thoughts and feelings without fear of discovery or judgment. Your space can be as simple or elaborate as you wish — you can journal in bed, at the kitchen table or on a park bench. Do whatever you need to make the space comfortable: light a candle, listen to music or turn on the TV for background noise.
Journaling does not have to be a sage activity conducted in silence, and there’s no “right” way to go about it. Approach things in a way that will be enjoyable and allow you to sustain the practice.
What to journal about
Write anything you want. Seriously. You have more to say than you think you do. Even events that seem mundane, such as trips to the grocery store, might prompt further reflection.
You do not have to stick with an accurate chronicle of your day’s activities, nor do you have to write pages of stream-of-conscious paragraphs. Do you want to write a letter to your future self? Fantasize about a dream vacation? Gush about a coworker you want to befriend? Let your imagination run wild.
On some days, you may want to stick to short notes or bullet points. You could jot down song lyrics, poetry lines or bits of dialogue that resonate with you. Journaling is a pliable medium, so feel free to make it your own.
Above all else, journaling is an excellent way to synthesize your thoughts and gain clarity about stressful situations. If you feel tempted to send a regrettable text message to a friend or partner, try journaling first. Privately venting might spare your relationships and provide emotional release.
(A word to the wise: Write the date on your entries. In the future, you might want to read your old entries and reflect on how far you have come.)
The necessity of self-care, especially now
Finding healthy outlets for your feelings is crucial to maintaining good mental health. Because the pandemic has disrupted many of our usual coping mechanisms — such as seeing friends, going to the gym or otherwise getting out of the house — self-care has become a more difficult task for many of us. Journaling is an accessible and low-stakes activity, and you might find that taking time to sit with your feelings improves your general outlook on life.