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Something for Everyone: What Type of Journaling is Right for You? 

I’ve always known that I don’t have complete control over my life, although, admittedly, that knowledge exists on some level deep inside of me that I scurry past and pretend not to notice. Most days, I’m content to carry on in my feigned ignorance, convincing myself that I single-handedly make the decisions that shape my future and give meaning to my life.
And then COVID-19 happened, and any shadowy illusions of control I had disappeared in the glaring light of reality — I’m fortunate if I have control over anything these days.

For all that I tell myself I am the master of my fate, I can do precious little about most things in my life right now. I can’t change the fact that I’m working from home… or that my partner is working from home… or that my stepchildren are attending school at home… or that my favorite yoga studio, bookstore, and coffee shop don’t know when or if they’ll be reopening… or that this may be a summer without sports camps, beach trips, and family vacations.

In the midst of such stress-inducing uncertainty, as I wrestle with accepting the things I’m unable to change, there is still one aspect of my life that is completely, entirely, solely under my control — writing in my journal.

We’ve probably all seen at least one article touting the benefits of journaling. Researchers have found that spending 15-20 minutes a day writing reduces anxiety and depression, improves immune system functioning, reduces symptoms of with chronic health conditions, increases our memory, and decreases symptoms of trauma. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get right now. There’s never been a better time to start journaling, so if you’ve ever considered it, but weren’t sure what to write about or felt stuck getting started, consider the eight following types of journaling and see which one speaks to you:

  • Gratitude Journal: A gratitude journal helps you keep track of the things you’re thankful for and the things that bring joy to your life. Simply write down the things you’re grateful for each day, using a bullet-point list or writing out complete sentences, and don’t second-guess whether something is “worth” including. Did you see a hummingbird out your window that made you smile? Jot it down. Did you master a new yoga move while sheltering-in-place? Include it. Writing down the things we’re thankful for helps us focus on the positive, which can be difficult in such unprecedented times. Check out Positive Psychology for tips and templates to get started with a gratitude journal. 
  • Mood Journal: A mood journal is a way to document your thoughts and feelings, while also identifying situations or people that affect how you feel or think. Keeping track of your mood allows you understand what influences your mood, and by knowing what makes you feel anxious, happy, annoyed, embarrassed, or distressed, you’re better equipped to take action and choose how you want to respond, rather than simply reacting. Here’s an example of how to start a mood journal.
  • Reading Journal: Many of us were already avid readers before the coronavirus outbreak, but whether you’ve been reading for years or started more recently to stave off boredom, you might consider keeping a reading journal. It can be as simple as recording the titles of books you’ve read, giving you a sense of accomplishment when you review them later. Alternatively, you can document specific phrases from books that impressed you, or explore your reaction to plots, characters, or that cliffhanger ending you never saw coming. Writer/blogger Alice Causarano offers helpful tips on how to start a reading journal.  
  • Dream Journal: Who hasn’t been amazed (or shocked) by their dreams and wondered what they mean? By keeping a dream journal, you can often identify themes in your life, gain insight into the things that truly matter to you, and see how your mind attempt to process and make sense of what you experience during your waking hours. Psychologist Kelly Bulkeley shares tips for keeping a dream journal, as well as the unexpected benefits of doing so.
  • Goal Journal: A goal journal is exactly what it sounds like — a place to write down your goals and keep track of your progress towards achieving them. Goals can be broken down into milestones you want to accomplish over the course of a day, week, month, or even year. There are as many goal-focused journals available as there are types of goals, so consider reading Bustle author Maria Cassano’s review article to see what type might work best for you. 
  • One Line a Day Journal: These journals have become immensely popular over the last few years, and part of the reason might be because they’re so easy to use — you literally write one line each day. That line could consist of three words or it could be a full sentence. You can do this with any journal, or you can purchase a themed one-line-a-day journal, such as “Mom’s One Line a Day” or “Living Well One Line a Day” for those focused on health and wellness. Lifestyle writer Gyan Yankovich shares her experiences journaling one line a day and offers suggestions for getting started with this type of writing.  
  • Prompt/Response Journal: Is coming up with a topic so daunting that you find yourself avoiding the blank pages of your journal? Then consider the idea of a prompt/response journal, where each day you’re provided with a different prompt in the form of a question or statement and asked to write your response to it. Prompts range from the general (“Today I feel…) to the specific (“Write about your happiest childhood memory involving a pet”). You can buy journals filled with prompts, or you can find prompts on your own, such as these from PsychCentral.

Journaling is for you; it’s a way to get to know yourself and a place where you can write what you want without fear of being criticized or hurting someone’s feelings. You may try one type of journaling and decide it’s not for you, but don’t let that be the end of your introspective journey — try something else. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need safe spaces to process all that’s happening around us, and journaling is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to establish at least a modicum of control in the COVID-19 chaos. Have fun and remember — there’s no wrong way to write!

References:

Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma. [No date]. Harvard Health Publishing Healthbeat. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/writing-about-emotions-may-ease-stress-and-trauma

Phelan, H. (2018, Oct. 20). What’s All This About Journaling? The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/style/journaling-benefits.html

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Barth, F.D. (2020, Jan 18). Journaling isn’t just good for mental health. It might also help your physical health. Letting your emotions out can reduce stress, which can boost your immune system — as long as you then process your emotions. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/journaling-isn-t-just-good-mental-health-it-might-also-ncna1114571

Bailey, K. (2018, July 31). 5 Powerful Health Benefits of Journaling [blog post]. Retrieved from https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2018/07/5-powerful-health-benefits-of-journaling/

Tull, M. (2020, Feb. 19). How Journaling Can Help With PTSD [blog post]. Retrieved https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-use-journaling-to-cope-with-ptsd-2797594

Something for Everyone: What Type of Journaling is Right for You? 


Katie Keridan, Psy.D., MPH

Katie Keridan is a licensed neuropsychologist and author in California. She holds a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from John F. Kennedy University and a Master's degree in Public Health from Texas A&M University. Dr. Keridan has trained and worked at universities and hospitals on both the East and West coasts, including Johns Hopkins University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute, the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital, and Children's National Medical Center. Her work has appeared in academic peer-reviewed journals, as well as literary magazines. You can follow her online at www.katiekeridan.com.

APA Reference
Keridan, K. (2020). Something for Everyone: What Type of Journaling is Right for You? . Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/something-for-everyone-what-type-of-journaling-is-right-for-you/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 9 Jun 2020 (Originally: 9 Jun 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 9 Jun 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.