How to Journal for Self-Care - a Guide for Parents

Self-care has been brought into sharp focus over the last few years. A global pandemic will do that. Desperately trying to get a grip on all the thoughts that surrounded us with nowhere to go and nothing to do. All the ups and downs of the world were quite frankly, a lot. And they still are. A lot has shifted in the last few years, and the focus has become more on the self. How am I doing? What is my purpose? Am I fulfilled? etc., etc.,

Becoming a parent may also highlight the need to be OK. After all, there is now someone else's mental health to worry about, so if you are not ok, is anyone? Of all things we need to consider as parents, as well as individuals, from the general day-to-day, to the larger more existential; politics, climate change, whether we are raising good humans, whether WE are good humans, and so on, it can all feel very overwhelming. VERY overwhelming. Journaling can be a powerful tool. The act of writing things down can be therapeutic, getting it off your chest and onto paper. Slowing things down well enough to consider what is happening and what one’s feelings are about it.

Over the last 2 years I have journaled a few times a week, I started out with a gratitude-only journal. I only wrote down the things I was grateful for. From the sound of the neighbor's chicken, clucking while laying an egg, to the sun on my face while sipping my first coffee of the day. It felt good to really take a moment to feel the world around me, focusing on the small moments of ‘the now’.

Over time, however, it became more cathartic to write about more. To write about problems, feelings of doubt, or feelings of celebration and achievement. Now almost two years later, I can look back on how I was feeling and either validate those feelings or realize how far off base I was. It feels good to review what progress has been made and if there has not been progress, why not?

Here are some ideas that have helped me in my journaling journey:

1. Set the Mood: Find a peaceful area that encourages relaxation and introspection. A quiet space is helpful. Some people find lighting a candle, playing calming music, or surrounding themselves with items that bring joy and tranquility helpful. Personally, I find a spot outside in the sun. I close my eyes and take some deep breaths to really feel the moment for a couple of minutes. I listen for the sounds around me, birds, water, a far-off airplane.

2. Choose Your Journal: This is important. You want to enjoy the actual writing part. I bought a new moleskin book and a pen that I know my handwriting looks half-decent with. After all these years of typing, my penmanship has suffered, so writing felt a little awkward to start. I decided not to focus on whether my writing suggests I’ve got a doctor’s illegible scrawl or a professional calligrapher’s sweeping style. The key is to choose a format that feels comfortable and inviting to express freely.

3. Find a Regular Time: Establish a consistent journaling routine that works for you. It could be in the morning to set intentions for the day, in the evening to reflect on your experiences or any other time that suits your schedule. Consistency will help you make journaling a habit and reap the benefits over time. I know that my days are very busy, so I find it less stressful to start the day in a calm way and condense it down to just a few minutes to really enjoy the practice, versus taking a long time of less concentrated reflection. Breastfeeding a newborn can also be a good time to reflect. There are so many emotions that go along with being a new mom that this peaceful time can be perfect for a little reflection. 

4. Start with Prompts: If you're unsure where to begin, start with prompts to spark your writing. Prompts can be specific questions or open-ended statements that invite reflection.

For example:

• How am I feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally today?

• What are three things I am grateful for in my life right now?

• Describe a recent challenge and how it has influenced your growth.

5. Write Freely and Honestly: When journaling, give yourself permission to write without judgment or self-censorship. Allow your thoughts and feelings to flow naturally onto the page. Don't worry about grammar, spelling, or coherence. This process is about self-expression and exploration.

6. Reflect and Gain Insights: As you journal, take time to reflect on what you've written. Notice any patterns, recurring emotions, or areas where you feel stuck. Use your journal as a tool for self-discovery and gaining insights into your thoughts, behaviors, and aspirations. This reflection can guide you toward personal growth and self-awareness.

7. Experiment with Different Techniques: Explore various journaling techniques to enhance your self-care practice.

Some popular approaches include:

• Gratitude journaling: Write about things you're grateful for to cultivate positivity.

• Stream-of-consciousness writing: Let your thoughts flow freely, without filtering or censoring them.

• Visual journaling: Incorporate drawings, doodles, or collages to express yourself visually.

• Goal setting: Write down your goals, aspirations, and action plans to manifest them into reality.

• Positive affirmations: Write affirmations that uplift and empower you.

8. Tailor Your Practice: Remember that journaling is a personal journey, so feel free to adapt and customize the process to suit your needs. Experiment with different techniques, try new prompts and be open to discovering what resonates with you the most.

9. Be Kind to Yourself: Approach journaling with self-compassion and understanding. Don't pressure yourself to write a certain amount or achieve a specific outcome. Your journal is a judgment-free zone where you can be your authentic self. Embrace imperfections and embrace the process of self-care through journaling. Some days, I will finish mid-sentence if the moment has left me and there are more pressing things to do than force something that is not flowing that day.

Journaling for self-care is a beautiful practice that can nurture your well-being and provide a deeper understanding of yourself. Through regular reflection, exploration, and self-expression, you can cultivate self-awareness, resilience, and a greater sense of inner peace.

child with muslin blanket

Once your child is old enough to speak and express themselves, you can introduce the practice to them. Snuggle together on the sofa and talk about how they are feeling, what they are hearing and feeling around them, and then write it down in their own journal. What a gift to be able to express yourself freely and to be able to pass that habit on to your child.

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