Journaling has long been a hobby for many. Tracking the day to day events of our lives in a ‘Dear Diary’ format. Loved by historians to get a first-hand account of the past, and read over by later generations when a secret diary is discovered. This manner of recording history, can now help us manage our future mental health, and that of our children too!
While writing in a daily diary tracks events, journaling aims to go deeper than that by delving into the way in which those events affect us, allowing us the space to reflect on our feelings, emotions and the anxiety related to those events, allowing us a chance to engage in self-exploration.
As a teacher, I have used journaling in my class to get children to engage in tracking their emotions. Every day they have to answer 3 questions:
- How am I feeling today?
- What are my goals for today?
- Is there anything my teacher should know?
These open style questions allow for children to write about what matters to them, in as much depth as they feel inclined to on the day. When they are facing a problem, be it parents separating, a pet passing away, stress over exams the process of journaling helps move a ‘worrying’ situation from the back of their minds onto centre stage where they can process them.
“When we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable,”- James Pennebaker, a University of Texas psychology professor who has spent the past two decades studying the effects of journaling.
The benefits of being able to unburden oneself by writing are profound and should become an habitual part of school life for children in this day and age where mental health is reaching a crisis point in school aged children.
An article in the Guardian quoted that:
Less than 30% of mental health research is focused on young people. Only £26m a year is earmarked for children and young people’s studies, despite 75% of mental illness starting before the age of 18. The lack of investment in children’s mental health means that very little is known about the cause of mental illness, and which treatments are most effective.
Sadly, children seem unable to get the help they need to tackle mental health issues or maybe even prevent them at school level as schools are stretched for time having to complete endless assessments, teach a balanced curriculum jump through admin hoops and then still file the paperwork and complete marking daily. Its no wonder that subjects such as the arts have taken a major hit in timetable cut backs in the last 10 years, as they are seen as less important. Ironically, it is these creative subjects that are the only outlet that allows children a break from the stress and rigours of school life, where they can express themselves and get in touch with their emotions on a deeper level.
Journaling however,may just be the simple time effective solution that schools and teachers can use to help bring about a change in children and how they explore and identify their own emotions in a healthy and productive way.
A journal provides a physical space for children to express how they feel and helps them in building an emotional vocabulary, enabling them to express whether they are angry, scared or happy. They can be reflective when reading back on what they have written and be able to think more objectively about a situation gaining insight into their own, and other peoples motives.
This purging of emotions should not only be focused on negative events and feelings, but can also allow for the tracking of positive emotions and periods of happiness. Which can be a great comfort to look back on in times of stress, knowing that; ‘this too shall pass’ , and allow children to look back on past problems and solutions that worked or didn’t work previously and learn from them.
A journal then becomes a safe growing space and if used correctly could be a powerful tool for change, and if nothing else, just a small step on the path way to highlight mental health issues in younger people who need our help and guidance the most.