Putting pen to paper to spill out your thoughts may be a powerful tool for improving your life in myriad ways, from easing the symptoms of chronic conditions to improving your mood.
Oddly, for someone who’s been writing nearly as long as I’ve been able to hold a pencil, I’ve never been able to stick with keeping a journal for more than a few months. And once I started making my living with words, I found myself even less motivated to write outside of work.
Well, at least until about seven months into the COVID pandemic. My family and I fortunately haven’t had to deal with many of the stresses it brought into others’ lives, from losing a job to both partners suddenly having to work from home while simultaneously trying to care for, and homeschool their kids.
In one way, I joked that a career as a freelance writer was good training for living through a pandemic: since I’ve worked from home for close to 30 years and we don’t do a lot of socializing, my day to day life hardly changed at all. Well, apart from the fact that we saw a lot less of our adult kids.
Then out of the blue, I went through an emotional ordeal that pulled the rug out from under my feet. I stopped sleeping, developed physical symptoms (including a first-ever flare of hand eczema that made my thumbs look as if they’d been burned), and could feel my mental health starting to slide.
Maybe it would help if I wrote about what had happened and what was going through my head, I thought. So I cracked open a Moleskin notebook and one of my favourite pens (yes, I’m one of those people), and got started.
And I’ve written a journal entry every day since.
I can’t say that it’s the only reason that I started feeling better. But it did help, in part by providing a way of stepping slightly outside of myself so I could put things in perspective, and think through how to deal with different situations.
I also incorporated a periodic gratitude practice into my journaling. Every day or so, I ask myself what I feel thankful for in that particular moment. It’s a technique that’s often recommended as a way to lift your mood.
Thank-you to the interviewees who so generously shared their time and expertise:
- Dr. Chris Carruthers, PhD, a health coach in Calgary, Alta.
- Jacqui Moraal, a good friend who started keeping a gratitude journal as an experiment and was surprised by the results.
- Dr. Kieron O’Connor, PhD, a clinical psychologist and director of the OCD Spectrum Study Centre at the University Institute of Mental Health at Montreal, and a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Montreal.