Journaling: How to and why

Psalm 61:3 You’ve always given me breathing room, a place to get away from it all. 

I hope you found my introductory post helpful. I am writing these posts alongside Phil’s course on the Fill In, found here. While I am not a counselor or mental health specialist, I write from personal experience and pastoral ministry. 

As Phil refers to journaling during his sessions; I thought I would offer my experience of this invaluable practice while adding some interesting research. 

For centuries people have written their feelings, joys, and laments. The scriptures are full of words of wisdom and poetry – writers finding access to God’s presence along the vulnerable path of words. 

There are many ways to approach journaling. Thankfully, journaling is not prescriptive, and once you find an approach that works for you, I’m sure you’ll experience many benefits. 

You might choose bullet journaling. The main idea behind bullet journaling is quick notes rather than full paragraphs. This creative system is often referred to as ‘a diary, schedule, and goal setter’ all in one and suits people who love lists, goal setting, tracking, and being organized. This system also uses an effective symbol system. There is a lot written about the to-dos of bullet journaling – just a quick search will get you on your way. This smart method could be specifically helpful for tracking your mental health and mood over a month when visiting your doctor or therapist. 

Others might choose a gratitude journal. Counting our blessings is a wonderful way to focus our attention on the positives in our lives. Many reports acknowledge that a gratitude journal helps both physical and mental health. A template such as ‘I am grateful for this _________ because_________,’ helps takes our gratitude deeper. Let’s start today – what three things are you thankful for? Why? Now, write it down and allow it to become a habit. 

A prayer journal is a helpful journal to record prayers for yourself and others, add to this scriptures, and promises over situations. These journals are a great encouragement to look back on and remind yourself of the faithfulness of God.  

I have journaled for most of my life, and I have stacks of journals overflowing with emotion, prayers, milestones, loss, and adventure. 

Some specific helpful journaling practice I have adopted and adapted over time have been using particular Q&A. For example, what’s the best thing that happened today? What made me anxious? What am I grateful for? Prayer needs? 

I have often used my journal to clarify and unclutter thoughts and feelings, talking through the page, pen in hand is a cathartic experience. Extracting negativity, exploring offence (second hand in particular – pastor’s wife anyone?!) Adjusting my sight and shifting my focus.

As we are exploring stress and anxiety, in particular, I have often focused specifically on anxious thoughts. Acknowledging my fears, forebodings, or traumatic events – it’s here a specific root of thought patterns can be highlighted. These helpful reactions appear as both sides of our brain are at work. 

Dr. Caroline Leaf, in her book’ Switch on Your Brain,’ refers specifically to detoxing specific thought patterns. She takes you through a sequence of days, progressing to 21 days on dealing with a particular negative thought. Sounds long winded but she acknowledges it takes this long to break a habit and rewire thinking. Again, this involves journaling daily replacing a specific thought with scripture or a positive thought.  

I’ve tried this process, and it works!! 

My mom finds Scripture journaling to be invaluable. Begin to write out specific verses, gathering more and more truths over time. When you struggle to pray or find words, these truths will remind you that you promised God’s love and presence during life’s mountains, valleys, and everything in between. In the middle of anxiety, God’s word is a beautiful way to connect with truth and his presence. I will often use these written scriptures to combat stress. Reading out loud, reminding God, writing, memorising. 

Some snippets from scriptures I have written… 

I love to read Psalm 23 out loud. ‘God, You are my shepherd, I lack nothing. You make me lie down in green pastures. You lead me beside the still waters. You restore my soul. You lead me in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me! Your rod and your staff, they comfort me! You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Your house forever.’

Or this word of vulnerability from the Message, Psalm 34, ‘I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy: Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out. God met me more than halfway. He freed me from my anxious fears. Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him.’ 

And finally, the reassurance of Psalm 139 from the Passion Translation. You know those dark times, when it’s hard to see for the dark is impenetrable, whether through thoughts, irrational fears, or physical responses. This is how God sees you…,

‘The night, to you, is as bright as the day; there’s no difference between the two. You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord! You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place, carefully, skillfully shaping me from nothing to something. You saw who you created me to be before I became me! Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book.’

And if that isn’t enough, research (sites below) shows that journaling can offer the following:

Decreased the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions.

Improves cognitive functioning.

Strengthens the immune system, preventing a host of illnesses.

It counteracts many of the negative effects of stress. 

Do you journal? Have you found it gives you breathing room? Any tips for us here? 

Love, Michelle 

If you’d like to read more about the overall physical and mental effects of journaling, I found these articles to be helpful. 

https://www.mic.com/articles/110662/science-shows-something-surprising-about-people-who-still-journal#.n0QO5ApTN

https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2018/07/5-powerful-health-benefits-of-journaling/

Mediate and Memorise

‘When I said, ‘My foot is slipping, your love, O LORD, supported me. When my anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.’ Psalm 94:18-19

Listen: Oh God, Citizens 

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