Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Power of Journaling Through Difficult Times

By Bonnie Randall

Part of The Writer's Life Series 

JH: Writing can entertain, inform, and even heal. Bonnie Randall shares thoughts and tips on the therapeutic power of journaling. 

These are strange times and, like much else these days, this month’s column is going to deviate from the norm. We’re still going to talk about writing—just not fiction. Not even anything for publication. We’re going to talk about writing that heals and soothes the stressed brain during the most unprecedented time we will ever see in our lives.

Journaling from the Heart, For Your Heart

In my day job as a therapeutic counselor, I assign journaling all the time. It is not an uncommon practice in or out of the counseling room; one quick peek at Pintrest and you’ll be overwhelmed with articles about journaling, journaling prompts, and even journaling doodles you can incorporate onto your pages.

Today, though, in light of our global situation, I’d like to explore how journaling can help heal some of the stress and anxiety we are all, in varying degrees, feeling due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

1. Journaling as Catharsis

There are things we just cannot talk about. Perhaps there’s no one in our life who will listen. Maybe you and your loved ones have radically different ideas about the pandemic, and you don’t feel emotionally safe sharing what you think or how you feel. Perhaps, in true writer style, you cannot express verbally what flies naturally and abundantly out of the end of your pen.

Or maybe you just want a place where you can explode with the anger you’re feeling and write all the swears in big, bold gouges on the page.

Or could it be that you need a place to list all the fears that have started to haunt you?

Journaling opens a valve to the heart, and the pages of your notebook will close like a sanctuary, keeping all of your most private questions and worries and sorrow between them. Let your journal be a place where your pen can cry, mock, rant, scathe, or even ridicule. Express it and stop carrying those emotional anvils inside of you.

(Here's more on Writing to Heal: The Benefits of a Cathartic Novel)

2. Journaling Builds Insight

There is a difference between having a thought and writing it down. One is fleeting, while the other, having substance, acts as a visual cue that invites analysis, reflection.

Stream of consciousness journaling cracks the door on even more subconscious, or subliminal experiences we may be having during these turbulent, uncertain days. Related, and in addition, a current phenomena within this phenomena is that people are reporting more vivid dreams, and more remembered dreams, than they normally experience.

Herein is yet another method to employ the practice of journaling: jot those dream down. Re-read what you’ve written after a few nights have passed. Are there common elements? Recurring symbols? What do they mean to you, and do any of them reflect some of the feelings discussed under catharsis? How do you reckon these symbols and themes with what you know of your own personality?

3. Journaling as a Mindfulness Activity

When we concentrate on the page and pen in our hand, immerse ourselves in the task before us, the volume dial on the ‘white-noise’ of the external world is turned down, and as such our heart rate becomes slower, our blood pressure becomes lower, and our breathing de-escalates to a rhythm more manageable for our bodies. Staying ‘in the moment’ by engaging with your journal removes you—even if only for a few minutes—from a world that seems to have gone crazy.

(ps: make sure, when you are journaling, that you do not do so electronically. Old-school writing with pen and paper engages more of your brain than does using a keyboard—therefore the mindfulness engagement is also increased). 

(Here's more on Journal to Boost Productivity)

4. Journaling Offers a New, and Possibly Better, Way to Look At Things

If your journal focuses on gratitude, then every item you add to your list each day will (literally) light a reward pathway in your brain, releasing ‘feel good’ chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, and DHEA.

Megan C Hayes explores radically new ways to journal concepts like joy, wonder, gratitude and more in Write Yourself Happy; The Art of Positive Journaling, a manual I refer to and recommend in virtually every resiliency workshop I teach.

5. Journaling Requires Self-Discipline and Willpower

…and there has never been a time when we have needed discipline more. As lives have been upended, so too have schedules and routines—which at first felt like a bit of a holiday, but now, several weeks in, has come to feel chaotic and out of control. I’m attaching a separate article, from my own blog, on the importance of maintaining a schedule here, but will add that committing to even a small practice—like journaling every evening at 9pm, or every morning with coffee—will offer a piece or predictability you can rely on within the increasingly unreliable landscape we now call our World. 

(Here's more on The Organized Writer: A Case for Non-Fancy Bullet Journaling)

6. Journal for the Ones You’ll Never Know

2020 will, one day, be in history textbooks and studied scholastically. Your account of it—including (maybe especially) how it made you feel—will be a precious heirloom for the future ancestors you’ll never meet, but who will know you, and understand this Pandemic, through the words, thoughts, and feelings you left behind.

We will—hopefully—never experience a time like this again. It’s okay if you’re feeling distracted, sad, bewildered, angry, or depressed. Please, though, reach out—either for people, or for strategies, if you are struggling. You are not alone. We can all help each other.

As always,

Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls. The series continues with her newest release, Within the Summit's Shadow.

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Andrew Gavin knows he's a train wreck. Before he even became a detective, Andrew’s first trauma—at only seventeen—occurred when he witnessed a gruesome suicide. Ever since, a delusion he calls The Dead Boy appears when his anxiety spirals too close to the edge…


Goaded by The Dead Boy, Andrew shoots and kills an unarmed teenage bully in what appears to be a fit of rage. Suspended from the force, and awaiting a possible murder charge, he retreats home to the Rockies. There The Dead Boy taunts him daily. Except…


Elizabeth McBrien, the childhood sweetheart he scorned, is back home in the mountains too, and shocks Andrew by revealing that she too sees The Dead Boy. Astonished that the spirit is not a delusion, but real, Andrew is further unnerved when he learns that The Dead Boy has ‘befriended’ Kyle, a gravely ill kid Elizabeth adores.

Now it's specter vs. cop in a race to save Kyle's life, and The Dead Boy insists that Kyle’s survival hinges on secrets Andrew holds about that long-ago suicide. Yet Andrew knows the entire truth will destroy him, and also annihilate any new chance he may have with Elizabeth. But they are running out of time; Kyle is dying, and The Dead Boy is ready to sacrifice anything in order to once again walk among the living…

Within the Summit’s Shadow is a paranormal romance unlike any you’ve ever read. Set in the resort town of Jasper amid the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, this novel combines love, mystery, and a persistent, deeply psychological, very personal haunting. Randall really delivers the goods with this one.”


  1. I did a journal after I was diagnosed with cancer, through the surgery,and the 37 treatments of radiation. At the time, it was for my kids because I wasn't sure how things were going to turn out. It's interesting now looking back through the range of emotions.

    1. What a courageous and insightful thing to have done. Thanks for sharing xoxoxo