As any writer knows, sitting down to write is a fraught business. I saw a comic once which likened writing to wringing one’s brain out like a wet dishcloth. It is an inherently uncomfortable experience. It seems counterintuitive then, that journaling is something that I’ve been able to maintain – with varying levels of consistency – for most of my life.
My early attempts at journalling involved me pouring my heart out to my Dear Diary, scribbling my teenage angst on the pages of a lockable diary, a flimsy tin lock attempting to prevent my older brother from reading (it didn’t). My consistency left a lot to be desired, and in hindsight these early entries demonstrate a pattern of sorts: that I write when my mind is full to the brim.
That might mean I write every day for weeks on end, or it means that I don’t write a journal entry for a month. Re-reading my earlier journal entries is helpful: issues which were front of mind at the time often have faded into the background. It’s a great reminder that what is consuming your thoughts now may not consume your thoughts forever.
It is universally acknowledged by writers that you can’t force the words onto the page. The thoughts have to be rattling around in my brain for a little while – a few hours, a day, a week – before I make them tangible on the page. When I’m feeling particularly stressed, there are more thoughts rattling around. Writing in my journal helps process these thoughts and clears some space.
For three years I lived in a remote community in the Northern Territory. Anyone with a similar experience would remember well the intensity that comes from throwing yourself into such a wonderful adventure. Teaching in a remote school was one of the most challenging and fulfilling periods of my career. Living alone meant that I didn’t have a person to come home and debrief about my day to.
Although my dog was undoubtedly beneficial for my mental health, she unfortunately doesn’t have the social skills to help me work through issues which may have cropped up through the day. My journal became the place where I could empty my brain (not unlike the Pensieve, all you Harry Potter fans) and bring those thoughts and stresses to a point where I could process them on the page. Journalling brings me emotional and mental clarity in a way that helps me help myself.
Here are some ideas to help you start journalling:
- Buy a journal you like to look at and keep it somewhere within easy reach. I keep mine by my bed, safe now that I don’t have any pesky brothers living with me. Teachers are notorious insomniacs and journalling can be very helpful at 2 am when you’re wide awake with a racing brain.
- Just write – don’t worry about how it reads. Write about three great things that happened through the day, or something funny a student told you. You don’t have to stick to a defined structure, but if you need some prompts a quick Google search can help get you started.
- Read back over your journal every so often to remind yourself that this too shall pass, and that what may have been causing you stress six months ago has now faded into insignificance.
Like many things in life, make journalling work for you. It shouldn’t be another guilt-laden part of your to-do list, but rather a release to clear some space in your mind.
How do you care for your own health and wellbeing? Do you have any tips that you’d like to share with your colleagues in education? We’d love to hear about them. Here’s a handy guide on how to get started.