Journalling: a journey in self-reflection

There are days when I find myself feeling swamped, my mind a chaos of mental clutter. The relentless sensation of racing to keep up with life, juggling a never-ending checklist spanning my personal life and work, feels overwhelming. Compounding this, unresolved emotions silently chip away at my mental and physical well-being.

Indeed life at times, may feel like a mad dash or as if we’re trudging through quicksand with a sense of stuck-ness. Whatever the nature of our journey, we can lose sight of the wider terrain and missing opportunities waiting to be explored. That’s where journaling steps in involving  a blank page, a pen, and a few minutes of my day, coupled with a willingness to be curious about my experiences in the world. This simple ritual allows me to have a candid yet heart to heart conversation with myself, which usually gets lost in the daily hustle.

This realisation marked the beginning of my journaling journey. When I pick up my pen, I start with what’s on my mind – feelings, thoughts, often related to my family life. After all, family is the source of my work energy. If things at home feel off, I know it’ll echo in my work, either draining my energy or pushing me to overcompensate. My work and family life aren’t separate islands; they’re intertwined threads in a tapestry, each influencing the other.

At times, I find it challenging to articulate my thoughts and feelings. During these moments, I pay attention to how I’m feeling physically. Whether it’s tension in my shoulders, a knot in my stomach, or an overall sense of calm or unrest, there’s always something to note. Even if it’s the absence of feeling, I acknowledge it and explore why I’m experiencing a disconnect.

I typically journal at the start and end of each day where I create headspace for myself. Evening journaling lets me unpack the day’s events, providing space for emotions that might have been pushed aside during the day and easing the transition into sleep. When a new day dawns, journaling helps set the tone. It acts as a sounding board for my goals and gives me a moment to recognise and acknowledge my emotions; it’s a way to nourish my spirit for the day ahead!

Journaling has found a unique place in the professional world as well. Amid the frenzy of deadlines and targets, it helps individuals manage the stress associated with these commitments. Journaling about high pressure situations can help untangle knots of anxiety, bring clarity, and strategize the next steps. In a professional setting where goals and metrics often take centre stage, we can easily overlook emotional experiences. Journaling provides a space for these unexpressed feelings, preventing emotional overload and fostering healthier engagement with colleagues.

Let’s consider a common scenario — experiencing conflict in the workplace. Noting down our emotional responses helps us check impulsive reactions that seldom help. This approach transforms potentially stressful encounters into opportunities for growth. It encourages us to reflect on our role in the interaction, facilitates emotional awareness and what’s needed to move forward. Even if we’re attached to our feelings of injustice, giving voice to these feelings through journaling allows us to gain perspective, honouring and exploring those parts of us that feel hard done by without necessarily acting on them; we become more flexible in how we choose to respond. 

But journaling’s role in the professional world doesn’t end there. It’s also a remarkable tool for managing tasks. When the flood of responsibilities feels overwhelming, breaking down your tasks in a journal can provide much-needed structure. It can transform a daunting to-do list into manageable pieces, giving you a clear sense of direction. 

With Men’s Health Week upon us, we must spotlight men’s specific health needs and raise awareness about preventable health problems. Statistics reveal that men bear a disproportionate burden of ill-health and mortality. Now more than ever, it’s essential to challenge the culture of ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality. This mindset often puts off men, from acknowledging and confronting our vulnerabilities. During this time, it becomes even more vital to see vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness. 

For instance, journalling a while back after putting pen to paper and connecting with my feelings, I still felt encumbered. It seemed I had hit an emotional roadblock. In the stillness that journaling offered, a crucial question surfaced: What additional support did I need to free me from this sense of stuck-ness?  It had highlighted  that sometimes, the next step requires stepping outside the confines of the journal. So, I reached out to a dear friend I hadn’t connected with in a while. This act of openness did more than offer support; it rekindled a good friendship; another crucial element of wellbeing. 

This episode highlights another facet of journaling – its ability to emphasize the interconnectedness of various aspects of our lives and the emergence of unexpected insights. Journaling is more than a record of thoughts; it’s a spark for creative problem-solving. 

Although journaling has been a clarifying tool for me, I’ll admit it isn’t a daily ritual  – naturally life happens – nor is it a quick fix. Its value lies not so much in the task itself, but in the experience it offers. Journaling allows me to slow down and cultivate a curiosity about my engagement with the world – to understand what’s working, what isn’t, why, and how I might effect change. 

The quest for mental well-being can be likened to crafting a symphony. It involves integrating various facets of life – our relationships, physical health, sense of purpose, belonging, identity, lifestyle, and security – each contributing its unique note to how we perceive and interact with the world. These elements are interconnected, and when one is out of tune, it can reverberate through the others. In this symphony of life, journaling plays the role of a synthesizer – a practice that promotes a more cohesive and adaptable composition. 

Jed Mitchell, Therapist