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Curious about the current self-care trend? How to use your journal to mindfully recharge

by Jacki Andre 14 Jul 2019
Curious about the current self-care trend? How to use your journal to mindfully recharge

Self-care has become a buzzword--and a marketing ploy. The concept is everywhere. Scented candles, spa services, paid affirmation apps, wine. If it makes you feel better, even for a fleeting moment, it’s touted as self-care. 

As Kieran Yates points out in an opinion piece over at Sleek, self-care has morphed “into a ‘buy-more-stuff’ and ‘monetise-your-anxiety’ profit model.” Between this “corporate hijacking” and the ubiquity of the concept, a lot of us have started tuning out references to self-care. That’s unfortunate because self-care--true self-care--is essential to our health.

Today’s self-care model often seems synonymous with pampering. But, originally, the practice was very much about health. In a terrific piece over at Slate, Aisha Harris explains that in the 1960s and ‘70s, doctors advocated for self-care as part of a patient’s treatment regimen. Over time, its value became evident to health-care professionals.  In particular, those working in emotionally-difficult professions (such as trauma therapists and EMTs) began viewing self-care as a way of avoiding burnout and compassion fatigue. As the saying goes, it’s important to put on your oxygen mask (or fill your own well) first. That way, you can help others without depleting your own resources.  

What Exactly IS Self-Care?

Any time we make an effort to improve our physical or mental health, we practice self-care. Getting 8 hours of sleep, staying hydrated, going for walks, listening to music, writing in a cute notebook, and meeting up with friends are all types of self-care. 

Self-care is about recharging. It’s about being mindful, listening to your body, and taking steps to improve your physical and mental health. Almost all types of self-care are free.

There’s nothing wrong with going for a manicure or registering for a paint night if those things will make you happy. But those types of activities aren’t self-care. Rachel Chen talks about this in a piece at Chatelaine. Chen says: “Self-care is strengthening your endurance and resiliency as you go about your life, which means it’s more than just relaxing.”

Self-care looks to the long-term, while other types of activities (which Chen groups under the umbrella of “wellness”) are often fleeting moments of joy.

Just as there is no one right way to journal, there is no one way to practice self-care.  Sometimes you won’t know what works best for you until you try it. You may need to experiment a little. What brings you peace and joy and makes you feel stronger? Do you prefer to go out with friends or curl up with a book? Would you rather get crafty or veg out with Netflix? Are you an early bird with time to work on morning pages right when you roll out of bed? Or would you rather make time in the evening to reflect in your writing journal?

Why Bother with Self-Care? 

More than anything else, self-care takes time. And time, my friends, is always in short supply, isn’t it? It can be tough to carve out more minutes in a day, particularly when those minutes are for you.

But self-care is an incredibly effective way to keep your well filled. It can:

  1. Improve your physical health. It goes without saying that eating well and regularly and getting enough sleep will have a positive impact on your physical health.
  2. Help boost your immune system. Physical self-care, like getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well, activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The PNS puts your body into a rest and rejuvenate mode, which strengthens your immune system. 
  3. Boost your mental health. Practicing yoga, doing deep-breathing exercises, writing in a blank notebook, and saying “no” to more commitments can reduce stress. And reducing stress can lessen the impact of anxiety and depression. 
  4. Improve your self-esteem. To practice self-care, you need to be kind to yourself. Listening to your needs and acting on them increases your self-compassion. As you become kinder and more compassionate towards yourself, your self-esteem will improve too.  
  5. Increase your productivity. When you slow down to take care of yourself, you also become more mindful. And mindfulness is key to understanding what is truly important and focusing on those things.  

How Does Journaling Enhance Self-Care?

There are a lot of ways to practice self-care. But, since I blog for SohoSpark, I’m going to focus on journaling.

When you pull out your writing journal, you’re making time for yourself. That’s always the first step of a self-care routine. But as Jennifer points out over at Simply + Fiercely, the act of journaling is one of the most powerful methods of self-care out there.  Why is that? Read on, cool cats. Read on. 

Reframe your narrative

It can be hard to focus on the positive and find joy in everyday things. Human beings are actually wired with a “negativity bias.” When our ancestors lived in caves, being alert to bad stuff (such as inclement weather and predators) was essential to survival. As we evolved, negative occurrences became highlighted in our brains.

The negativity bias doesn’t serve us well in the 21st century. So many of us are struggling with anxiety and depression. We’re trying to latch onto joy instead of dwelling in negativity. However, it takes a concentrated effort to shake the negativity bias. An effective way of doing that is to reframe your narrative.

The words we use to tell our stories are powerful--and we can put a negative or positive spin on almost every story. Something as simple as a pen running out of ink mid-sentence can be seen in either a positive or negative light. Having to use or buy a new pen might interrupt the flow of your thoughts and the aesthetic of your entire journal. On the other hand, that new pen could be even better than the old one. 

How you tell your stories is up to you. Writing your stories in your lined journal gives you a chance to think about the words you use in those stories. As pointed out in a past blog, learning how to reframe your narrative and put a positive spin has a lot of benefits including “a more complex sense of self and greater life satisfaction.” It will also make you happier over time.

Increase creativity

Whether you write in a lined journal, create artistic spreads in a bullet journal, or keep an art journal, journaling is an art form. And, as with anything artistic, being creative can improve your mood and make you happier. 

Let it go

Letting go of things that bother us is an important part of self-care. Ruminating on things can keep you stuck in negative thought cycles. 

Getting thoughts out of your head is often the first step in letting go. But if you use your personal journal to explore your thoughts and feelings in-depth, it can help you work through change and endings.

How to Use your Journal for Self-Care

There are many different ways that you can use your journal for self-care. Some things will work better than others. Don’t be afraid to experiment or to stop doing those things that aren’t working for you. 

Bullet Journals

Bullet journals are great for short written entries, planning, lists, and trackers like:


Crystal Dunn, a player on the US Women’s National Soccer Team, writes just one sentence in her journal each day. That sentence describes what she wants to accomplish that day. By visualizing the task she wants to complete, Crystal is able to focus on that goal. That focus, and the realization of her daily goals helps to ground her and brings her joy.

Daily planner

Using your bullet journal as a planner can help reduce stress. It’s a relief to easily reference what needs to be done and the deadlines to do it all by.


The act of compiling a list is self-care, since you think about and record those things that enhance your physical and mental health. Having those lists as a handy resource goes one step further. Whether you’ve had a stressful day and need to squeeze in some decompression time or whether you are struggling with mental health issues, having self-care lists can make it easier for you to do those things that will improve your health.

  1. Compliments. Keeping a list of compliments you’ve received can boost your mood on a bad day and improve your self-esteem over time.
  2. Beautiful things. Looking back on a running list of beautiful things you’ve noticed can help pull yourself out of negativity. Or, as an act of self-care, challenge yourself to spot five (or ten) beautiful things over the course of the day. A buzzing bee, a child’s smile, a field of yellow canola against a blue sky--all of those things have beauty.
  3. Calming mechanisms. What calms you down when you’re angry or anxious? For me, it’s turning off my phone and walking my dog, losing myself in crafting, and listening to music. Having a list of those things to refer to can make it much easier for me to zero in on the activity that will calm me down.
  4. Entertainment. While self-care is about being mindful, sometimes you to do need something mindLESS. Losing yourself in books that you loved when you were a kid or in binge-watching tv can be an act of self-care too.
  5. Chores. While some people find it satisfying to deep clean window tracks with a toothbrush, I am not one of them. Still, I love a clean house and it’s certainly key to a healthy life. A cleaning schedule or just a list of chores can help keep your living space tidy and joyful.
  6. Social circle. Sometimes it’s hard to reach out and ask for help of any kind. Keeping a list of friends, and noting their strengths, can be helpful in your self-care journey. Some friends excel at commiserating; others rock out chicken soup; and yet others know how to install a toilet float. Some would love to see you face-to-face and others only want to text. Knowing what you need from someone and who can help you with that is a terrific addition to a self-care list.
  7. Self-care nitty-gritty. If you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, sometimes it’s tough to manage the basics. If this is you, list things like getting dressed, showering, brushing your teeth, and eating a piece of fruit.


Many self-care routines have the most impact if they’re habitual. Trackers are a terrific incentive for establishing habits. Who wouldn’t want to award themselves a gold star (or even a simple checkmark) for completing a self-care activity? Trackers can be used for things like:

    • Physical activity
    • Meditation
    • Sleep
    • Water consumption
    • Taking vitamins/supplements/medications
    • Limiting screen time

Morning Pages

Morning pages are a type of journaling developed by Julia Cameron. The concept is pretty simple. As soon as you roll out of bed in the morning, cover three sides of regularly-sized notepaper with stream-of-consciousness writing. In some ways, this is like a brain dump (see below). The point is to get all your thoughts out of your head, to clear your mind and improve your focus for the day. If that’s not self-care, what is?

Morning pages often work best if they are ultimately disposable. They are meant to replicate your thoughts; grammar and punctuation fall by the wayside. They are also often highly personal. People may feel more comfortable if the pages can be destroyed. While you may want to keep a notebook just for morning pages, you probably don’t want to create morning pages in your bullet journal. A perfect solution is a refillable journal. The Sunrise Journal from SohoSpark fits the theme of morning page beautifully.

Brain Dump

A brain dump has the same goal as morning pages, but the process is different. First off, a brain dump doesn’t have to be done in the morning. Secondly, brain dumps are often done as lists, rather than as stream-of-consciousness writing. But, just like morning pages, the goal is to clear your mind of clutter, help you prioritize your thoughts and goals, and improve your focus going forward.

Some people do brain dumps as part of their bullet journals. Others do them in designated notebooks or on loose sheets of paper. Visit my past blog for more tips on how to make brain dumps work for you. 

Gratitude Journal

Gratitude and joy are interconnected. Focussing on gratitude is a terrific way to address self-care and improve your mental health. Learning how to keep a gratitude journal has many benefits. 

You could certainly create gratitude lists within your bullet journal. However, the more deeply you explore your gratitude, the more powerful it becomes. As well, if you flip through your gratitude journal at a later date, your feelings will resurface more easily if you’ve noted those feelings down. Saying “I’m grateful I have food in my fridge,” is not as powerful as saying, “I’m grateful I have food to nourish my body. I’m also grateful for the choices I have with that food. By choosing healthy foods, my body feels strong and powerful. I’m proud of myself for making healthy eating a priority.”

There are so many ways that a personal journal can help you establish better self-care routines and improve your mental and physical health. Do you already use your journal for self-care purposes? If so, please let me know how by dropping a note below. I would love to hear from you! 

Photo by Timothy L Brock on Unsplash

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