When I was a teenager, I kept a diary under my mattress. It was bright blue and had a lock on it. It was a place to acknowledge my daily struggles and fears without judgment. It felt good to get all my thoughts and feelings out of my head and down on paper. The world seemed so much better afterward.
Upon reaching adulthood, I stopped using a diary and graduated into journaling. The concept still works; I’m writing down my thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. Journaling has been an important tool toward learning what loving myself actually looks like, healing trauma, and managing anxiety.
If you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression, or want to manifest your goals, keeping a journal can be beneficial. It can help you gain clarity over your emotions and improve your mental health.
We go through life listening to our inner critic. It’s the part of the brain that’s rooted in fear, self-doubt, and worry. I know this because I have been controlled by my inner critic. At the time, I had no idea that was even a thing. So I went through life thinking those thoughts must be right and true.
But then in college, I survived a sexual assault. I knew that I needed help because I felt like I was living in a nightmare and everything around me became a challenge. I ultimately left school and sought therapy in order to help me cope. One of the things my therapist suggested to me was journaling.
I didn’t want to face those terrible thoughts and feelings. But I did it. Pages and pages of my emotions started to pour out. I would write down every fear, every bit of anger at myself, every bit of anger toward the person who hurt me, including cuss words, prayers, questions, drawings, and I would beg God to help me feel better.
Journaling became my safe space to understand myself and everything that was going on with me. After all those difficult emotions came out, clarity started to settle in. I was able to hear my intuition and God.
Oprah Winfrey hosted The Oprah Winfrey Show for 25 years and became a billionaire and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has an entire school in her name and continues to be a force in media. What is the one thing she attributes her success to? Journaling.
“I’ve been journaling since I was 15. It’s a wonder that I’ve managed to be a successful human being considering how pathetic I appeared in many of my daily musings. It’s a testament to growth and grace that I’ve come this far. Keeping a journal will absolutely change your life in ways you’ve never imagined,” Oprah writes in “An Exclusive Look at Oprah’s Journals.”
Make time for yourself
Journaling is a reflective practice. It allows you to sit alone with your mind and have an honest conversation with yourself. So try to set aside a few minutes every day to journal. This will help you develop a regular habit. A simple notebook or journal will do. By writing down your emotions, feelings, and thoughts on paper, you clear all the clutter out of your mind.
If you are confronting feelings that call up fear or anger you may not know how to deal with, a study from the University of Iowa has found that it can be easier to write about difficult events through using third-person pronouns for example, (“she”) rather than “I.”
Meditate on your goals
One central theme in my journaling is how my written goals of the past manifest themselves as achievements. It has happened to me several times over the years.
Once I started to gain control and clarity over my life, it paved the way to start manifesting goals that I wanted to achieve, whether it was publishing my first book, finding the type of relationship I wanted, or traveling overseas. I became laser-focused on these things and wrote specific details down with no boundaries. I also attached practical action steps toward those goals. I held myself accountable for my own journey and documented my progress. I achieved every goal I set.
Track your progress
After years of journaling, I have seen my language change on the page. I have become more grounded, optimistic, and able to work through my feelings and emotions.
What’s more powerful than that is the opportunity to revisit the past. Yes, it is okay to look back. When you can sit down and flip through years of notes you have written, you have the power to literally relive the days of your life. What you discover is: You’ve evolved.
Nelson Mandela used journaling as a way to talk with himself and find light in the darkness during his 27-year imprisonment: “The mere fact of writing down my thoughts and expressing my feelings gives me a measure of pleasure and satisfaction. It calms down the shooting pains that hit me when I think of you [his daughters].”
Journaling has helped me to:
- Regain my confidence and self-esteem.
- Navigate what is right for me vs. what I think I “should” do.
- Sort through my own feelings before projecting onto anyone else.
- Find clarity when I feel confused.
- Assess what’s really the truth of a situation.
- Remind myself that I am okay.
- Recognize what I am grateful for.
- Get answers about what to do next.
You don’t have to be a writer to journal. You just have to be a human being. If you’ve ever thought about journaling, it can be a helpful tool to gain more clarity in your life and be good to yourself. We all deserve that.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.