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When I was in fifth grade, my mom bought me a diary that I wrote in every single day. It was purple and had jelly beans all over it. My favorite part was it has a tiny lock on the side of it with a secret code only I knew.
I wrote in that book every single day. It became my ritual to jot down how I spent my days, who my best friend was that week, and all the boys I had crushes on.
It was filled up very soon, and I went out immediately and bought a new one with my babysitting money. As I went through puberty, what became a fun, nightly ritual jotting down my favorite singer, who I was attending a slumber party with and my favorite way to eat a grilled cheese (dipped in ketchup), was replaced with heart-wrenching details of my life as a teenage girl.
Filling my journals got me through my parents’ divorce, heart breaks, and all the pressures I felt about being thin and liked and popular.
When I was in high school, I'd fill pages and pages a day revealing thoughts I never felt comfortable sharing with anyone. There were moments I'd write for over an hour just to get my thoughts out and I knew over time when I'd reach for my pencil and put my emotions on those pages, I'd feel a sense of relief not even therapy gave me.
They were mine, and mine alone. It was a safe place to go and be who I wanted to be unapologetically and not feel judged. It was okay if I didn't really know what was wrong, but I was feeling down or confused, and journaling always helped me.
After college, I stopped writing down my thoughts every day. I still have no idea why, but I kept all my books in a box in my mother's attic and always thought I'd pick it back up. After having my three kids, my mom gave me the box, and while looking through old yearbooks and thumbing through my journal one day, something came over me and I threw the entire thing box and all its contents into the trash.
Just like that, I tossed out so many memories. It was too much for me to face—those entries made me feel vulnerable and raw and ridiculous. It was a rash decision and I've regretted ever since. Those pages were filled with all the people I've been in my lifetime, they are the moments that have made me who I am today.
I wish more than anything I had kept them so I could show my teenagers we all go through stuff and whatever they are feeling these days as they embark on their teenage journey is normal.
But more than that, I wish I had kept them as proof that journaling helped me get through so much discomfort in my life. I can talk to them about it now, and tell them about all the benefits, but if I had those books, it would cement that fact for them even more.
And I so wish I could flip through those pages myself. Some of them would make me cringe.
What experts say
"Journaling is an extremely effective way to improve self-awareness and well-being for both kids, teens and adults alike,” said Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, writer and mental health expert who spoke with us. “Journaling helps teens clarify thoughts, identify emotions and solve problems."
Mendez adds journaling is a "great adjunct to therapy," as it can help people sort out their thoughts and feelings and help keep track of our personal goals and progress.
Another point worth noting is journaling is exceptionally easy, cheap, and doesn't have to take more than a few minutes per day.
In this day and age when our teens are so prone to reach for their phones for some type of comfort instead of looking inside themselves, journaling could be a great outlet for them to really sit with their feelings in a healthy way.
How exactly it helps
Dr. Dori Gatter, a licensed psychotherapist and family counselor, says journaling is beneficial for the following reasons:
- It reduces that monkey mind and helps clear your thoughts.
- It holds your thoughts still for a time as you have to focus on what you are writing so that your thoughts and feelings can integrate.
- It can release pent up frustration, thoughts, and emotions.
- It leads to a feeling of empowerment.
- It helps you to detach and let go of built up emotion
- It allows you to re-experience the upsets and feelings you need to feel in order to let go of them.
- It reveals and tracks patterns so we see how we operate and work
- It offers new perspectives—journaling acts as your own counselor for teens as well as adults.
All this, just by writing down your thoughts and emotions on a regular basis. Not only that, but journaling is a great way to look back at some fond memories and realize how many things you have overcome in your life.
I so wish I had mine to look back on, so if you or you teen start journaling, or are practicing this already, take it from someone who deeply regrets throwing away so many of her thoughts. Make sure to keep every single entry.
Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine and is a full-time freelance writer. She's writes about all things parenting, food, and fashion.