Robin Gutman

With the busy back-to-school and holiday season behind us, the fall season lies like a blank canvas ahead.

The holidays often bring a potpourri of mixed emotions (or just difficult emotions), as many navigate family situations and the complexity of relationships, which, during the holiday season, can be especially difficult to avoid.

There are different coping skills that people may turn to when emotions are riding high, to help process and navigate the feelings. Here’s a tool I’d like to suggest: journaling.

Does journaling sound like something you might be interested in?

“No way!”

For people who are wary of feelings, the idea of journaling can be off-putting. The concept of journaling involves one’s thoughts, and anyone who uses avoidance as a coping mechanism will probably shut this idea down really quickly. (If this describes you, please give me a chance to explain journaling!)

Journaling might appeal more easily to someone who is introspective. When someone carries thoughts in their mind, it can begin to feel heavy, intense, overwhelming, or even anxiety-provoking. Journaling can be a way of tracking and recording thoughts so they can be understood and processed. It can give the writer a space to unravel, reflect, and/or connect.

Here are some of the common questions (or objections!) when it comes to journaling:

I’m not much of a writer.

Guess what? Journaling is not about writing!

Journaling is a space to think about your life in a way that is connective without being limiting or restrictive in any way. It is a way of safely connecting to yourself, opening up to your thoughts with no judgement. There is no time limit and no word limit—it can be as long as you want or just a few bullet points.

Some people might have thoughts thundering through their minds that they cannot wait to spill onto paper, and for others it may be a more reflective process. Not all of the journaling process needs to be actual writing; some of the time you set aside for journaling may be used to relax and tune in to yourself as the thoughts begin to crystallize into words that are ready to be put onto paper. You don’t have to be a writer to make space for your cognitive connections.

Try reframing the idea of “journaling” as a protected, nonjudgmental space to sit with your thoughts, with the writing being used as a safety net to catch these thoughts

Can I journal even if I’m not comfortable with the idea of writing about what’s going on in my life?

Using poetry, drawings, or even short fiction stories can be a way of letting more personal thoughts out in an indirect way. As you begin to feel more comfortable with your own emotions, you can look back at your entries and discover thought patterns that come up frequently.

I have no time to journal.

Thoughts come and go throughout the day, or, sometimes, there are thoughts on one’s mind all day long. If you cannot set aside a specific block of time to journal, keeping a small notebook nearby to jot down thoughts (whether in full-sentence form or even words) can be helpful.

Remember: Journaling can be used regularly or occasionally. If you can find a way to bring journaling into your life in a consistent way, you may begin to reap the benefits and learn to look forward to spending time with yourself.

I don’t want to think too much.

Not everyone thinks that thinking is really good. It makes sense to feel uncomfortable with emotions if you are unsure of how to handle them. If you feel that your thoughts might be too strong or too painful, avoiding them completely seems like a good solution. While this can help in the short term, it does not bode well for your long-term relationship with yourself or with others.

A good way to become more comfortable with connecting to your thoughts is by first becoming more comfortable with emotions. Setting up a space that is private, making it comfortable and appealing, and perhaps preparing some refreshment for yourself, can make the idea of “thinking space” less vulnerable. Once you are in a place that feels physically secure and comfortable, it can become easier to lean into the unguarded world of emotion. Music can be a fantastic tool to help connect to feelings. Turning on different songs and trying to name the feelings that come up as you listen is a great exercise in feelings identification.

It can feel daunting to open up to your thoughts, but there needs to be honesty and transparency with yourself in order to achieve real growth and reach true contentment. It ends up having a really positive effect on your relationships, too.

Here are some ideas to help get your journaling started:

  • Find a journal (and a writing instrument) that is appealing to you.
  • Choose a space that contributes to reflective connection.
  • Start by writing some of the basic parts of your day to help get into a “writing flow.”
  • Using journal prompts can help guide your thoughts. Here are some examples of journaling prompts:

If your life were divided into chapters, what would you title the chapters?

How do you define success? What do you consider your successes?

What could you add into your day to make you feel proud of yourself?

Who is someone who had a big impact in your life? In what way?

The main benefits of journaling include becoming more in touch with yourself and with your thoughts and emotions, which can lead to becoming more confident and secure in your sense of self. The added bonus is that it helps tremendously in being aware of your feelings and needs, so that you can hopefully be able to communicate well with others and build deeper connections, which is an important part of feeling emotionally supported.

Journaling does not have specific rules, and you can structure it in any way that works for you. It may feel difficult or unnatural at first, but over time you might be pleasantly surprised at how journaling benefits you! n


Robin Gutman, LMHC, NCC, is a licensed mental-health professional and maintains a private practice for adults and couples. Robin specializes in working with trauma, anxiety, self-esteem, and relationship challenges. She is available for parenting consultation and speaking engagements. Learn more about Robin’s therapeutic approach by following her on Instagram @robingutman_lpc.


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