You’ve probably heard of the benefits of keeping a diary, such as for improving well-being and metacognition. But when you see beautifully detailed bullet journals with complex mood trackers all over Instagram, it’s easy to think that you would never find the time. In fact, although lots of people report wanting to, the majority don’t keep a diary.
But, there’s a quicker solution: when thoughts and emotions start to overwhelm you, grab a pen and paper and jot down your feelings. Through writing, mind mapping, or even doodling - whatever suits you. It doesn’t have to be everyday, just when you need it. And for something that can be so quick and fun, it still has many benefits. Here’s why.
Why is it important?
Writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you to label your emotions. Labelling is key for understanding what you are feeling and why. This aids your self-awareness as well as your ability to analyse how you think (also known as metacognition). Labelling also helps you to process your feelings, which can reduce the intensity of emotions, enabling you to manage them more effectively.
In contrast, allowing your feelings to bottle up can negatively impact your well-being. Research has shown that suppressing emotions can damage students’ well-being as well as their social and academic performance. It can also increase stress and lead to neglecting well-being, for example by not regulating eating, exercising, or sleeping enough. This takes a toll on your ability to work well, learn effectively or socialising, and limits your metacognitive awareness. But, there is an easy way to fix this…
How to keep track of your emotions
- Write - You don’t even need to write full sentences. Simply scribble it down. Struggling to understand a maths problem? Write “I feel frustrated”. Dwelling on your last performance and dreading an upcoming competition? Write “I feel nervous”. Feeling like a colleague is keeping you out of the loop? Write “I feel upset”.
- Mind map - We don’t mean the revision kind. Map the different branches of your life and add your feelings to each one. This will help you identify where negative feelings are coming from, but can also help you to remember which branches are positive at that moment. Remember, this doesn’t need to be perfectly planned out, just get those feelings down on paper.
- Doodle - Some people may avoid writing down their feelings for fear of others reading them. So, why not doodle, be creative and transform those emotions into drawings? This can be particularly useful for expressing complex emotions that are difficult to put into words. Sometimes, what we think are meaningless scribbles, actually reveal interesting insight into what is going on inside our minds.
How does jotting down your emotions help?
- Processes emotions
Getting your emotions down on paper, whichever way you choose, helps you to recognise and clarify these underlying emotions, process your feelings, and clear your mind. Giving time and space to your emotions means you won’t feel bogged down by heavy thoughts.
- Alleviates stress
Concealing emotions increases stress. Getting them out and down on paper can help to reduce the stress surrounding negative emotions, which in turn has positive effects on well-being.
- Prevents over-reacting
Jotting down your feelings will help you to identify your emotional triggers. In moments of stress, release your emotions on paper, to neutralise them. Processing impulsive thoughts and feelings this way will help you to stay calm and rational, which can avoid escalating an already stressful situation.
- Melts thought ‘snowballs’
‘Snowballing’ occurs when we let negative emotions build up and race out of control. When you start to feel stressed and your negative thoughts begin to snowball, grab a piece of paper and scribble how you are feeling. Clearly defining your snowball can help you to focus on why negative feelings are building up, and put a stop to this acceleration.
- Develops Metacognition
Once your emotions are down on paper, you can then ask yourself “Why do I feel like this? And what can I do about it?”. This self-questioning helps you process emotions. Thinking about your feelings may lead you to challenge unhelpful or irrational thoughts that might be making you feel this way, improving your self awareness and understanding of your own thinking. Learning to engage in self-questioning is a powerful metacognitive technique - and can even aid learning.
- Helps focus, concentration, and memory
Finally, jotting can make room for higher level thinking, by getting the details and thoughts out of your head, as well as helping you to enter a more relaxed state of mind. Doodling your thoughts and feelings after a period of intense focus, for example, can refresh you and boost your focus and concentration after this. Research has also shown that doodling while working can actually facilitate memory and recalling information.
We all have moments when things get on top of us and we struggle to cope with our emotions. Whatever is causing you stress, be it upcoming exams, an important game or work demands, scribbling down your emotions in the moment can be a useful release. It’s a simple way to improve your well-being, with important effects for your performance and social life too - and a nice break from tasks.
For another effective tool to help you deal with emotions and stressors, have a read of our blog why does taking a deep breath help?