woman writing in journal
Woman sitting on the grass writing in a journal

Coronavirus welfare advice: Why write in a journal?

The University Counselling Service is offering all its counselling online in Trinity term. Here we discuss the benefits of journalling, particularly in these trying times.

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation." - Graham Greene

You may have noticed that nearly every list of tips for coping with lockdown includes the suggestion that you keep a journal. If you have never kept a journal, or if you have done so in the past and not found it rewarding, you may wonder why. In general, many committed journalers would agree with Graham Greene that journalling is therapeutic, and helps us to cope with the feelings inherent in human situations. But there are some features of the particular ‘human situation’ of the current pandemic that may make journalling especially relevant:

  • There may be more - and more confusing - feelings around than in normal times: fear, anxiety, sadness, disorientation, relief, restlessness, and more. You may be consciously awash in too much feeling, or coping by trying to have no feelings at all. You may also worry how others would cope if you expressed your feelings.
  • With so many new issues issues to think about (ranging from practical to existential, from small to large, from short-term to long-term), you may pinball between thinking about too much, leaving you flooded and overwhelmed, and thinking about nothing at all, leaving you feeling vacant and powerless.
  • Others may be less available or accessible to help you process and metabolise feelings, or to help you think clearly and constructively about the issues and challenges you face.
  • Depending on your living situation, you may have lots of time stuck in the one-seat theatre of your own brain, where it is all too easy to lose perspective

In this context, a journal can be invaluable:

  • When you are unsure what you feel, or what is going on inside you, a journal gives you space to be curious and to explore.
  • A journal can help to contain your feelings, making it feel safer to engage with them. After all, a journal can be opened, but it can also be closed, and the feelings put away.
  • You can say absolutely anything in a journal. You don’t need to worry about being judged, or about harming anyone.
  • Journalling can help you get to an observer position in relation to your own experience, activating higher brain functions and enabling you to reflect on it more clearly and constructively.
  • If there’s a jumble of different things in your mind, it can help you to sustain focus on one thing at a time
  • The very process of starting sentences with the word ‘I’ can help you to recover and hold onto a sense of agency

So reach for some paper, or open a file on you laptop, and see where writing leads you. You might just discover, as so many others have discovered, that journalling makes a real difference.

How are you coping with lockdown? Share your tips what you’re doing to take care of yourself and tag @oxunistudents on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook – or email us: [email protected]

For a range of additional supportive resources, go to the Counselling Service webpages, or visit the coronavirus student advice page for more general information about the impact of coronavirus.