We desperately need journaling to keep us sane–here’s how to get back to it



Journaling may be the new way to stay sane during quarantine.

You’ve probably heard about the many benefits of journaling. Especially during this global pandemic, every list of “Activities to do Keep Yourself Sane while in Quarantine” seems to advertise keeping a diary as some sort of holy elixir. And, like me, you may have thought “what a great idea,” only to then feel frustrated when you put pen to paper, and start wondering what all the hype was about.

I have journaled sparsely in the past, usually in response to meaningful life events like summer camp. I have found the experience rewarding if a bit exhausting, and I was eager to try something more consistent. So, six weeks ago, I promised myself that I would keep a consistent, historical diary about the Corona Era to look back on decades from now. 

Yet here I am, only a few short entries later, failing again to stick to what’s meant to be a therapeutic, uplifting activity.

What went wrong? Why don’t I look forward to recording my thoughts and feelings, daily happenings and world events in my stylish purple bound notebook I picked up from Bed, Bath, and Beyond? And why does my guilt regarding inconsistency dissuade me from opening its cover again? 

After some paper-free reflection, here is what I have discovered, along with innovative solutions to enjoy the art of thought-recording during this trying time.

My primary frustration with paper-and-pen journaling is that it is an incredibly slow process. Even when I’m scribbling illegibly, the words are plodding along at a sloth-like pace to my gen-Z mind. My brain moves about fifty times faster than my aching hand, and after I’ve written what feels like a full length essay, I glance down to see that only about half a page is scrawled over with colorful ink. 

I always have so much I want to record that my poor hand simply cannot keep up. While some might find the sluggish pace soothing, the effort it takes to craft each sentence pressures me to express my thoughts perfectly and prevents free flow of thought and emotion. I want to get a lot down, as quickly and effortlessly as possible. But how?

One night a little while ago, my head was overflowing with thoughts I needed to record. I regarded my journal with disgust at the prospect of sitting awake with my back bent against the headboard of my bed for the hour I knew it would take to empty even half of my mind onto the page. 

Struck with an idea, I placed my journal back onto my nightstand and crossed my room to gently shut my door. I turned to one of the most common and useful communication tools of the modern age: the smartphone. I tapped open the voice memos app and placed my phone on the pillow next to me as I lay down, pulled up the blankets, and started to talk. 

No more weary eyes and sore wrist, just my voice and the quiet of the night. I talked into the darkness for fifteen minutes before it suddenly dawned on me that I had nothing more that I wanted to say. All of the mixed-up, exhausting feelings were gone from my mind and recorded somewhere else. 

It felt amazing. I realized that I had been putting way too much pressure on myself to create the perfect journal that I had seen in cute YouTube vlogs and advertisements. As soon as I told myself I didn’t need to keep a standard, historically precise journal, I was able to express my thoughts much more clearly and quickly. I have never listened to the recordings I’ve made (cringe,) but I like to know they are there if I ever want to look back on them.

For those brand new to journaling or wanting to reignite the ritual that they dropped for reasons like mine, I also recommend prompt journals. The one I am currently using is called “One Question a Day: A Five-Year Journal.” Each page asks you a question about your day or life, and has five lines to answer, so you can see how your answer changes or stays the same over the years. 

The questions range from “What is the desktop background on your computer” on June 26 to “How would you describe the state of the world” on December 10. The questions only take about thirty seconds to answer, and throughout the year, you slowly piece together a snapshot of your life without even realizing it. I am only in my first year of filling out this fun, illuminating journal, and I am excited to gain perspective on my growth and the lessons I’ve learned in future years.

No matter what journaling method best lets you express your feelings, take off any pressure you’re pressing on yourself. No one is perfect, and sometimes you need to try something a little unconventional to discover what works for you. 

This is a difficult time for all of us, and those websites are on to something when they emphasize again and again the importance of getting your feelings out. It should be catharsis, not a chore. So pause your movie and put down your problem set. Grab your phone and go for a walk, sit at your desk, or snuggle in bed. And talk out loud to yourself. It really works.