Many of us kept diaries when we were young, recording our daily lives. There are entertaining programmes on the radio when people revisit their childhood diaries and marvel at the young person they used to be, gaining insights into their younger selves. This habit is often lost when we become adults for many reasons, such as lack of time or inclination.
When taking part in therapy it is often recommended that you should consider keeping a journal, creating regular entries, daily if possible. But this is not designed to be a record of where you went or what you had for dinner, although that might be included.
This is to be a ‘reflective’ journal, focussing on feelings and emotions and how situations and experiences affect how you feel. These can be personal writing, drawings, poetry, articles from publications, reviews of television programmes, songs, in fact, anything at all that ‘reflects’ the way that you are feeling on that day. In this way, you are recording your emotions by recording the reaction you feel towards the items that you include.
This will help you to become aware of how you deal with certain people, places and situations. You might start to identify whether they have a good or bad effect on you. Recognising how they make you feel will allow you to begin to manage your emotions more effectively by developing self-awareness. You might register not only your emotional feelings but also some of your physical reactions to situations and how you are affected in your body.
For example, you have a rushed journey to a hospital appointment and at the traffic lights somebody cuts you up and you miss your slot and are delayed waiting for them to change. You react very badly to this situation, seething in the driver’s seat but unable to dissipate the angry energy that you are feeling. By the time you get to the hospital, you have a headache that may well develop into a migraine and you are hoping that not only will you will be able to pay attention to the appointment but worry whether you will be fit to drive yourself home or will need to call for help.
You blame a headache on hunger from not having lunch or the effect of bright sunshine because you forgot your sunglasses. Later in the day when you write your journal, you may well sense that it might be the feelings of anger and the stress that you felt in the driving situation that caused your headache. In this way, you become aware that you might benefit from a method to deal with your anger and frustration in order that it does not make you ill and leave you debilitated.
This helps you to become more aware of why you feel certain emotions and how people and places affect you and to develop your emotional intelligence. Over time this awareness will help you to live your life in a more conducive fashion, guarding yourself against experiences that affect you in a negative way. As a counsellor I could help you to make these links, to identify the source of your emotions and so support you to live a more relaxed life.
If you want to learn more about keeping a journal then a good source of help is
‘Reflective Writing in Counselling and Psychotherapy’ by Jeannie Wright.
You can purchase a copy of the book here