Can we write off stress, just by putting it on paper? Well, the story of our lives may not rate as epics, and the literary quality of our writing may leave much to be desired, but many scientific studies have validated that diary writing can be a stress buster and bring down worry, depression and anxiety. But of course, journaling is certainly not a substitute for psychiatric help.
When we have too many thoughts in our minds, writing it down de-clutters our minds, and we feel relieved and cleansed. “A chaotic mind with too many thoughts is like a house with too much furniture strewn around. When you journal, it lets you throw out all the conflicting thoughts and then, you get the space to pick and keep just what you want or need,” narrates Shiv, a marketing professional and an avid diary writer. For instance, when Shiv relocated to a flat near his children’s school after letting go of the ancestral home he had lived in ever since he was born, it was a tempestuous time. “It was a stressful time and I turned to my diary, of course”, he says. After a few sessions of journaling, as diary writing is otherwise known, he made peace with his decision to relocate. “Journaling works like a safety valve. Your emotionality comes down. And sometimes, when we look back at those jottings, we might even wonder why we felt so upset at such trivialities,” remarks Lakshmi Vijayakumar, consultant psychiatrist, researcher and founder of the NGO Sneha.
Others, like young Vishal, a precocious child, use diary writing as a tool to express their chain of thoughts, and thus offset verbal incompatibility. “I always take a diary or at least a few sheets of paper with me — even to family functions, to ensure that Vishal has a way of venting out his feelings and thoughts,” says his mother Vidhya. Some counsellors recommend people seeking treatment for stress and other issues to keep a journal of the stressful episodes they undergo. This diary should journal not just the event and feelings, thoughts and reactions on it, but also details like time and place, the persons and issues involved, etc. Such a diary can be used to review the events and spot patterns and triggers for stress, and work out coping strategies.
Initially, of course, it does feel presumptuous and narcissistic to be writing volumes on our thoughts, our feelings, our day…. “The challenge is in writing the first few lines. Thereupon, you tend to write in a rush and don’t feel like stopping at all,” Shiv says. If you still feel blank and don’t know how to begin, start with factual descriptions of your activities, what you saw, heard, said etc… pretty soon you will be able to chronicle your emotions. Diary writing works only if you are totally honest. If you write to project an image or to fit to the self-image you have in mind, it turns out to be a useless exercise.
Some of us journal on laptops, others find pen and paper journaling irresistible. Some of us journal to look back, while others journal to outline their future. Some people write at specific times like bed time, while others turn to their diaries whenever they fancy. Of course, diary writing has become less prevalent now, but, all those who are into it find that journaling makes them feel lighter, and more at peace.