How to Get Started with Journaling (Even When You’re Intimidated)

journaling

This week’s episode is all about journaling. You may be wondering why on earth I’d dedicate an entire episode to this—I mean, it’s pretty self-explanatory, right?! But what I tend to find is that sometimes people don’t know where to start or what to write about. So in this episode, we break down why it can be intimidating to start a journal, why it can be helpful (particularly for people struggling with disordered eating), and 5 ways you can go about journaling.

Why is Journaling Intimidating?

While I have a long history with journaling myself, I understand that not everyone picks up a journal and feels the same connection as I did. In fact, many of my clients struggle with journaling. I’ve heard similar struggles from clients: You purchase a pretty journal, you’re excited about it because you’ve heard great things, but then when you sit down to write in it, you’re completely paralyzed. What do I write and where do I start? And if this sounds like you, I can tell you that you are not alone. Journaling can be quite intimidating. I think part of it has to do with our preconceived notions of what journals are. When I was younger, I thought I needed to start each entry with a “DEAR DIARY,” and then go on to eloquently detail my entire day. I thought I needed to be some kind of literary genius. But in reality, a journal can be anything that you want it to be. I always put so much pressure on myself that my handwriting had to be perfect and I initially only shared certain details because what if someone reads it someday? (gasp) But journals are meant to be between you, your thoughts and the pages of that notebook. Your journal is your sanctuary and no one else’s you can be 100% yourself, and trust me, your handwriting does not need to look at all legible. Mine isn’t.

So why is journaling helpful anyway? 

There are a number of benefits to journaling. For my clients who tend to struggle with a funky relationship with their body or food, it can help get those clustered thoughts out of your head and onto the sheet of paper. It also helps you to take a step back and evaluate your thoughts. One journal activity I sometimes do with my clients is to write down a problematic thought—let’s say it’s “I’ll never have a normal relationship with food again.” Then I have them divide the information into two columns titled “evidence to support” and “evidence to refute.” Then at the end they sum up that information. Obviously this is a more structured approach, but it’s one way you might look at your thoughts more productively.

Another way that journaling can be helpful is that you are engaging in an emotional reaction in a non-harmful way. So whereas you maybe restricted your food in the past (or whatever it is you are struggling with), now you are pausing to process your emotions without immediately engaging in that reaction.

While I could go on and on about the benefits of journaling, the final benefit I want to mention is that it can help you evaluate how you are living out your values. Often what clients discover when we work together is that they are living in misalignment with their core values and they hadn’t even realized it. We typically go through a series of journal activities in and outside of session to get to the root of those values and how your eating disorder or chronic dieting may have been leading you further from those values.

Okay so let’s get into the ways you can journal that might make it less intimidating. While there are many more out there, I’m going to share 5 styles today.

5 Styles of Journaling to Try

1. Word Vomit

There’s probably a more eloquent way to word this but this is what I call this first style of journaling. I think I’ve maybe heard of it being called stream of consciousness. To sum it up, you just keep writing everything that comes to mind. You can literally start out the entry with “I don’t know what to talk about.” If you want something more constructive, you could start out with something like: “I’m feeling…” or “I’m struggling with…” and then jot down the words that come to mind. You could also set a timer if you wanted and start out by telling yourself: “I’m going to jot down my thoughts for 3 minutes and see what happens.” You can always continue writing more, but starting small with 3 minutes can help take the pressure off of you. 

2. Lists

Sometimes when you are overwhelmed, it can be difficult to calm yourself down to pull out a journal and write. I’ve been there. So something you can easily do to still have a release of emotions is to whip out the notes section of your phone and begin making a list. The list doesn’t even need a theme. When I have a lot on my mind, my list might consist of all the tasks I need to get done, to a thought that’s bugging me, to something I need to pick up on my next trip to Target. It doesn’t matter. If it helps get the tangles out of your thoughts, then it is valid.

3. Prompts

I often use prompts with my clients to help them explore different concepts between our sessions. I mentioned a couple earlier in the episode. Besides the worksheets that I utilize, there are special journals that can help guide you. Specifically in the Intuitive Eating and Eating Disorder world, I have a couple of favorites. 

My first favorite is the Intuitive Eating Workbook by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole that released in 2017. If you are on a journey to food freedom, this workbook is helpful in walking you through each of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating with activities and journal prompts. 

The second book I frequently recommend is the “8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder Workbook” by Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb. Many of my eating disorder clients have expressed how much they connect with this workbook. I love the way the book explains eating disorders. The authors talk about how you typically have an “Eating Disorder Self” and a “Healthy Self” and part of the goal is to strengthen the “healthy self.” There are TONS of activities to help you along the way.

Outside of the nutrition and eating disorder world, there are all kinds of prompts and specific journals available. Try searching Pinterest for free prompts to test some out to see if this resonates with you.

4. Gratitude

This type of journal is exactly like it sounds—you are listing things you are grateful for. The purpose of this type of journal is to help you appreciate the wonderful things in life. And they can be as simple as things as “my morning cup of coffee” or as significant as “surviving a traumatic car crash.” Again, it’s all about your preference and what you prefer. I’ve seen some people keep a daily list of gratitude where they start each morning with a list of ten things they are grateful for. For me personally, I’ve used an app called “5 Minute Journal” that costs just a few dollars. This app prompts you to list 3 things you are grateful for in the morning, what you will do to make today great, and a daily affirmation. Then before you go to bed, you are prompted to list 3 amazing things that happened today, and list one way you could have made today even better. You can also add a picture. I’ve really enjoyed having this on my phone and being reminded of the good things in my life that I’d otherwise forget about when I’m feeling down.

5. Art Journal

This is the type of journal I probably have the least personal experience with, but I know resonates with many people. Sometimes words just aren’t your thing no matter how hard you try. In this case, I’ve had clients start art journals and have found it a fun way to express themselves. For some people, fixation on food has stripped them of their creative outlet. So turning to a form of art again can be quite healing. This could be everything from collages to watercolor painting to sketches. If you’re getting the common theme here—It can be whatever you want or need it to be.

Conclusion

So to recap, the 5 types of journals we talked about today were: word vomit (or stream of consciousness), lists, prompts, gratitude, and art journals. I hope one of these piqued your interest and you might consider giving it a try soon. I always tell people that you never know unless you try and the worst thing that can happen is that you try one and you hate it, so you try a different one. Not a big deal. Feel free to message me on social media if you think of other styles of journaling that you love or let me know if you tried one that I mentioned today.


For previous episodes, head over to the designated podcast page.

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