Why you should keep a journal as a form of self-care
As possibly the most personal form of writing, journaling seems to lie somewhere on the spectrum between an art form and a cheap alternative to therapy. Today, the sheer number of cutely-adorned wellness journals found in the self-help aisle of any bookstore would suggest journaling sits among self-care tactics like lighting scented candles and running a bath. But do these things really belong in the same category? Having kept a journal for most of my life, I’m not sure the practice is nearly as serene as other self-help strategies — but I have found it to be extremely valuable.
My relationship with journaling makes me think of the old cliche: “dance like nobody’s watching,” or its rarer, more bookish counterpart, “write like nobody’s reading.” It’s good advice; you’ll be your most creative self when you stop worrying about who may be looking over your shoulder or judging you from the sidelines. Of course, whether it’s possible to write like no one is reading is another question entirely. I assume writing without a reader is the creative equivalent of running giddy through an open field, revelling in total freedom. But even on my most expressive days, this liberation eludes me. After all, someone is always reading — and that person is me.
I’ve kept some form of a journal, with varying degrees of consistency, for the past ten years. In that time, it has rarely afforded me as much escape from my own self-judgment as I might’ve liked. I’m constantly sneering at something I wrote in the past, or criticizing myself for failing to articulate exactly what I’m going through. But I’ve learned that having to face my own scrutiny doesn’t detract from the cathartic benefits of journaling; it’s actually an important part of that catharsis.
I think this is why journaling is a powerful tool for self-discovery, but also why it can be uncomfortable and frustrating at times. Unlike a piece of art that’s meant to be seen and validated by others, the value of a journal hinges only on your own reactions. It often forces you to confront the way you respond to your own thoughts, necessitating skills like self-compassion and mindfulness in the process.
Keeping a journal has also enabled me to maintain a funny kind of correspondence with my past self. Digging through old notebooks, sometimes this is embarrassingly on-the-nose: I’ve come across old entries that my teenage self attacked with a red pen, leaving snarky comments. It’s proof that keeping a record of yourself is no bloodless sport: even just rereading something you wrote years ago can feel like a cage match between the person you used to be and the person you are now. But by letting those two duke it out, you often come out the other side with a little more empathy for the both of them.
In the bigger picture, I’ve found journaling to be a way of honouring my own relationship with myself. It’s enabled me to watch myself grow, and to extend the same fond (if condescending) compassion to my present self that I’ve learned to extend to my past. As an added bonus, there’s nothing better than an edgy rant written in your middle school years to remind you not to take yourself too seriously. So write like nobody’s reading — even if that nobody is you.