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Daily Journalling and Mental Health

Towards the end of last year, I kept reading about the merits of daily journalling. The timing was fortuitous; 2020 was a long and difficult year at the best of times, let alone moving across the world and attempting a new career.

I was always very mindful of, well, mindfulness, and what things people can do to stay in a state of positive growth. One of the drawbacks of young children is often a lack of sleep, which I know can personally make me lapse into negativity. Combine this with a very different climate and the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it was pretty clear that mental health was something that I needed to take seriously.

I looked into meditation, yoga, and exercise. And it might have been a bit of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (where you learn about something and then start to see it everywhere), but there were a lot of people espousing the positive benefits of journalling.

So many, in fact, that I decided to give it a go for myself.

I’m buried deep in the Apple ecosystem, so I wanted something that synced across devices. This meant a subscription, which I must admit I’m not a huge fan of. I only have two subscriptions — Ulysses, which is indispensable (I’m writing this blog post on it right now), and MindNode, which is a very handy mind-mapping app, but I’m on the fence about whether I’m getting my money’s worth.

So, after a bit of research, I ended up with my third subscription — to the Day One app. It ticks all the boxes, and I figure that I can test it out for a year, and then export the data and end the subscription if I’m not getting enough value. First impressions were that the app was super polished across all devices, the sync was very reliable, and it has tons of cool features, most of which I’m not using (yet).

Fast-forward a few months, and today I just hit my 100-day journalling streak.

(It should have been more like 120 days, but I missed one day in mid-December, and it feels wrong to go back in and back-date an entry to get the perfect streak)

So, does it work?

So far, the answer is yes… and no.

Why? Because… (cue drum roll)… you only get out what you put in.

Big surprise, I know.

Looking at it from the mental health perspective, I haven’t quite found the benefits whilst recording the diary entries. But one thing that I didn’t really consider is how much enjoyment I get out of reading past journal entries. A week ago, or a month, or a year or more for the long-term users, it’s actually quite fascinating to read what I got up to that day, or what my state of mind was, or any random photos. In that sense, it feels almost like a 21st century, digital time capsule. I can crack it open and relive the past.

But that means the experience is only as good as the quality of your journalling.

I have to admit, there have been days when I completely forgot, and ended up half-assing a journal entry right before bed, just to maintain my streak. On those days, I get nothing out of it, nor will it give me anything positive in the future. I’ll read it back in a month or a year and know that I was only cheating myself.

But at other times, when I’m journalling throughout the day, or when I have an action packed weekend with the family resulting in heaps of photos and stories to share, I journal diligently knowing I’m doing myself a favour down the line.

And maybe that’s the positive mental health benefit, after all — knowing you’re doing something now, to benefit your future self.

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