British Columbia

Write it down: Keeping a journal can be a productive way to cope with uncertain times

People who keep private diaries, or write about their everyday experiences, thoughts and emotions say the practice has led them to a fuller life. They encourage others to take it up, maybe as a New Year’s resolution, in these uncertain times.

Putting your thoughts, feelings and experiences down on paper could improve your health and memory

People who regularly write down their thoughts, feelings and ideas in a private journal say the practice has helped them be less anxious, more productive and even sleep better. (Stephanie Rimando)

The past two years have had ups and downs for licensed practical nurse Stephanie Rimando, who works at a hospital in Metro Vancouver and at a long-term care facility.

But dealing with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has been eased by a long-term habit she started as a teenager: writing in a journal.

Rimando, 29, started keeping a diary when she was 17 to cope with her mother being abroad.

"I just wrote all my thoughts, my emotions, all my experiences and it made me feel like someone is listening to me, so that was the start of my journalling," she said.

She's kept up with the practice, writing regularly at night before she goes to bed. She says it helps her sleep, helps her understand herself better, and helps her face the current uncertain times.

"I just write all my anxious thoughts in my diary and it really helped me process those thoughts and it really helped me prepare for the next day for my shift," she said.

Stephanie Rimando, a nurse in Metro Vancouver, writes each night in her journal before going to bed. (Stephanie Rimando)

Rimando and others like her say keeping a journal is an inexpensive habit with plenty of rewards, which scientific study seems to support.

There have been numerous studies over the past decades that have looked at how expressive writing can help people deal with traumatic experiences, cope with anxiety and depression, and also perform better on tests.

American author Julia Cameron has for decades written about the power of being creative and expressive. A book she wrote 30 years ago, called The Artist's Way, discussed the concept of "morning pages," a daily ritual of writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness ramblings.

"Writing daily pages gives us a witness to our lives and brings us optimism and generosity and encouragement and fulfilment and just a lot of positive things," she said from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Julia Cameron wrote about the concept of making daily, stream-of-consciousness journals entries in her 1992 book The Artist's Way. (Robert Stivers)

She said that The Artist's Way has made it back to the top of some bestseller lists recently as she believes the pandemic has pushed many people to find ways to cope with the uncertain times.

"I think that the book's reputation is that it is supportive, so I think people in COVID, when they're casting about for, 'Gee what can I do to feel better about myself to feel less trapped,' they turn to the book," she said.

Social media as public diary

Cameron acknowledges technology has changed since 1992, when the book was first published, and that many people now like to share their thoughts and feelings over social media. But she encourages people to do private writing that no one will ever see.

"I think morning pages are so private and so personal and so naughty because people are putting down what they actually think and what they actually feel," she said. "I find the idea of going public with your pages to be counter-productive."

Back in B.C. another long-time journal-keeper, Laurie Anderson, who also began keeping a journal in high school and is still at it 40 years later, says there is also a practical side to having a box full of books that you wrote.

"It's absolutely fabulous to have a record of what was important to me at 17, 25, 33, 48," she wrote in an email.

Rimando and Cameron both encourage people to try doing private, expressive writing as a way to start the new year, whether daily or once in a while, trying to form it as a new habit.

"Try trusting that you will receive benefits," said Cameron. "Pages train you to expand."

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