By Jen Jope
Millennials are known – and widely mocked – for their attachment to technology, and younger Gen Xers aren’t much better. But in certain moments, a keyboard and a touch screen can’t match the therapeutic power of plain old pen and paper.
Early blog platforms and social media sites, including Live Journal and MySpace, created an environment where my friends and I felt comfortable communicating our internal struggles to the world. When Facebook came along, it felt therapeutic to document your every thought, including your opinion on lunch. Technology has been part of my life longer than it hasn’t, and I’m certainly comfortable rapidly switching between Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest accounts and adding my two cents on topics big and small in various comments sections.
But when it comes to coping with depression, I’ve always been drawn to pen and paper.
Rumination breeds anxiety and fuels depression. I’m prone to rehashing scenarios over and over in my mind until I’ve worked myself up so badly I can’t sleep. Journaling allows me to catch those thoughts, organize them and truly work through an issue. It allows me to untwist negative thinking. I’m forced to examine what I’m feeling, write down distortions in my thinking and evaluate my next steps.
It’s been a helpful exercise to monitor my moods, too. I write down the facts of a situation and my automatic thoughts (whether they’re “right” or not). After that, I document my emotions and consider other ways to approach the situation. I often refer back to my old “mood monitors” to see how I dealt with a problem. By writing it down, I’m able to learn from my experiences and grow as a person.
I’m a huge proponent of talk therapy, and I believe strongly that journaling augments the work you do on a therapist’s couch. Journaling allows you to continue the “conversation” later. If my therapist has offered interesting insight or asked me to consider another viewpoint, I’ve used journaling to dive deeper into solving a problem.
When life is stressful and frenetic, journaling has been a welcome relief. Taking time for creative self-expression quiets my mind. Journaling is a mindfulness activity, something you’re encouraged to practice if you cope with depression. Being present in the moment – writing down my observations about my surroundings – gives me a chance to refocus.
The actual practice of writing, not typing, is also an exercise in mindfulness. Sometimes I’ll take note of how my handwriting looks. I’m also more honest with myself on paper. Whereas typing feels businesslike, writing feels more luxurious. I’m more patient with myself when I sit with a notebook instead of in front of the blue glow of a computer screen.
I’ve been journaling for more than 20 years. When I first started as a teen, I didn’t know why I was drawn to the exercise. I just started writing. While I always felt better after journaling, it wasn’t until I reached adulthood before realizing it had therapeutic effects that helped me fight my depression.
At times, journaling has forced me to face uncomfortable thoughts. But it’s also helped quiet the negativity and fend off depressive episodes.
Jen Jope is the founder and editor-in-chief of Depression Defined, a resource for 20 and 30-somethings struggling with depression and anxiety.