Why keeping a daily diary is one of my top emotional health tips.

Right now, I’m fortunate enough to know that my own emotional health is better and more stable than it has been in a long time.

Of course it hasn’t always been that way, though. When I look back through twenty years of diaries (many of them with appropriately black covers) I have written evidence of having struggled through the toughest of tough times, which I know I’ve experienced in common with so many Moodnudges readers. Perhaps including you?

Despite the unmitigated sadnesses that many of their pages captured, however, my bookshelf of diaries is one of my dearest possessions. On trips back to the UK, I’ve returned with a few more volumes each time, and they’re now safely gathered together again here in California.

If you’re a fellow diarist, that’s great news. But if you’re not, starting to keep one would be one of my strongest emotional well-being recommendations, particularly if you sometimes battle with low moods.

I don’t write my own diary for anyone other than myself, but the ten minutes or so that it takes me each day is something I greatly look forward to.

Different people have different diary strategies, some using them to pour their hearts out. That’s not really how I use mine. For me, it’s more about capturing what happened the day before, even if nothing much did (which has been the case during darker times).

After I’ve written about the day, I put the diary away and in some ways feel I’ve put the day away too, however good or bad it was. And that seems to free me to start anew again. Just as today’s page is blank at that stage, the day ahead can feel full of potential, too. New day, new page.

It annoys me that it can be hard to buy a diary after the year has started, but if you don’t have one, perhaps you’ll find one in the reduced section of a stationery store? It’s also sometimes possible to get hold of “any year” diaries, where you fill in the 2017 bit yourself.

More than anything, if you’re at all curious about what it might entail, rather than worrying about not being able to commit to the process every day, forever, why not just give it a try for a few days, or a week? And also free yourself from the tyranny of feeling you have to complete the whole page/section every day. Do, though, promise yourself to write something, even if it’s just a word or two.

I’m interested. If you already keep a diary, what have you learned from your experience? Alternatively, if you shy away from the very idea, what’s the reason? I’d love to know.

13 thoughts on “Why keeping a daily diary is one of my top emotional health tips.

  1. Why don’t I keep a diary? What if someone else found it? (Very few people know about my depression). However, I use your excellent invention Moodscope every day.

  2. Hi Jon! It’s that last question ‘if you shy away from the very idea, what’s the reason?” that has encouraged me to write on the diary issue. Simply, as a young woman it was a quest for privacy. For all the hovering, and intrustion, and judgmental observation that was probably more about the ‘control oriented’ parent than her daughter (me) that prevented me from writing anything down. I was a big ‘trier’ as I sustained a vain hope that high achievement would bring the right attention my way. However, it wasn’t the best technique with this ‘parent’ – I now know that this is not for me to take personally. What I did learn was independence, perserverance, oh and burnout 😉 But life is good and one often has the most amazing opportunities when the chips are down. The other side effect is that I have very obscure handwriting (another quest for privacy, perhaps.

  3. I love this article Jon. I have a 5-year diary… I bought it from Waterstones (UK) and it’s a small pocket-sized object. Each page represents a date, and there are 5 blocks per page, one for each of the 5 years. What is so lovely about it is that when writing the current entry, you can look back and see what you were doing on this day in previous years… sometimes with fondness and sometimes with relief that you have moved on from that stage! I find it very therapeutic to view previous portions of my life in hindsight; it helps me to make sense of the place I am in today based upon where I have been (metaphorically).

    The only negative I find with a diary is that sometimes I look at blank pages where I have not filled in days at a time and feel a sense of failure, like I have let myself down by not finding the time to do it. It must be the perfectionist in me to want things to be complete. But then I try to imagine that I must have been having far too much fun on those days to remember my diary… 🙂

  4. For a while I wrote a diary online on Penzu but stopped after a shocking violent end to my 40 year marriage and a change of country. How I wish I had documented my feelings and events of that turbulent time, it would be so helpful now to look back and see what progress I had made. I’m struggling now so I think perhaps I will start again even if only to shut the door on the last 24 hours.
    I like online because I touch type and can see what I am writing without looking at my hands which is somehow very useful and quicker than writing with a pen which I grip so hard it gives me hand ache! Of course with type it’s very clear what you have written, no doctor’s “oh dear what does that mean?”

  5. I guess you are familiar with the work of j pennebakker from the univ of Texas? He has spent over 20 years exploring the therapeutic value of writing. I’m sure you already know this but just in case!

  6. I’m a very strong advocate of keeping a diary – I’ve done one now for 20 years – started doing it because my therapy training made it mandatory but then kept it as a real asset. Interestingly, my diary writing happens in the middle of the night somewhere between 2 and 4 AM – I started suffering from insomnia and used it to write my diary – now, I simply sleep in 2 blocks of 4 hours with anything between 45 minutes and 75 minutes writing and reading in between. I make myself a cup of tea, write in my diary, maybe read a chapter of a novel and go right back to sleep – no problem. My strategy for what I write is first of all to do a dump of whatever I am feeling – cheap therapy – the paper gets the feelings! Then, as a result of this I might have one or 2 insights (or not) and record them. Then I write a quick summary of what went on yesterday – just like you said, it puts the day away – and finally I focus on what is going to happen today so that by the time I get up I’m really clear in my head. Hope this helps others. Adrian 🙂

  7. I’ve kept a diary on and off (mostly on) since I was about 12, sometimes just recording what happened, sometimes pouring my heart out. I highly recommend it – just to get your thoughts in order when things are difficult. I use a pretty notebook rather than a pre-printed diary, as not only is it more flexible, but I find it more inviting, too.
    At the moment (I’m in my late 50s) I’m going through my teenage diaries, which have sat unregarded for a very long time. I’m skimming them, noting the highlights in a facebook post, then burning them as I go. Friends have been horrified, supportive and fascinated in equal measure, but I feel I have to do it. I won’t want to read them again, no-one else will want them, and there are things I wouldn’t want anyone else to see – I wrote them entirely for myself. It’s been quite poignant but definitely the right thing to do.

  8. I too keep a daily diary & have done for many years. I got back into it seriously when my mother was dying & I needed to a) catalogue some key facts that helped me care for her & b) as the only safe space I could put down on paper what was happening to me emotionally.

    Like you Jon the diaries are just for me & have helped me track some of the triggers that catapult me into a black & also to accept they just ‘happen’ with no discernible cause or trigger. Equally they chart good stuff & happy times!

    My closest friend, who I’ve also appointed as a co-executor of my will, has strict instructions to find my diaries, not to read them or give them to family & to destroy them if I die before her.

    I do like writing anyway so for me to reflect on the day, in bed at night, is easy & helpful noting, what to me, has been significant & how I felt about it.

    They are also a useful resource if I need to recall something or look back over a longer time span.

    As part of my daily routine I look forward to writing my diary each day.

  9. Yes I too am a believer of the therapeutic value of writing daily in a diary. It helps when I put a code at the top of my writing of a sad or a happy face, so if ever I want to confirm days that made me low, what happened…what I did and likewise a happy face.

  10. I’ve kept a diary since I was 12 years old. I’m now 45 so that’s quite a long time. I’ve written pretty much every day in my diary, sometime just recalling the events of the day and sometimes delving deeper into what is worrying me or what has made me happy. I once tried to stop writing a diary but I found myself drawn back to it. Like you Jon, I find writing down the events of the day, good or bad, clears my mind before sleep, putting the day to bed as well as myself.

  11. Thanks for the tip Jon. I’ve tried to keep a diary before and never kept it up for various reasons – as a teenager I’d worry that someone would read my secrets, crushes etc. And to some extent I still feel a little vulnerable that someone could potentially read my inner thoughts… another problem I have is perfectionism… if something I’ve written looks boring, or very messy then I lose pride in it and am less inclined to continue… also if I miss a day then the habit feels broken. But what is really interesting to me is that two separate people today have strongly recommended that I keep a diary! You in the moodnudge, for wellbeing reasons, and someone on a creative writing course I’m attending, for the purpose of keeping up and improving my writing. I’m inclined to give it another go just because of the weirdness of that coincidence 🙂

  12. The diary issue. I held a workshop years ago (30?) for the opening of the National Museum of Women in the Arts–we were trying to talk about why women kept diaries–and the first thing was what to do with all those books! Just a thought. I tried for years to keep a diary but I said the same thing for months so I figured that that was a waste. The last 2 years — beginning with my Mother’s illness–Feb. 2015–and my aunt’s death – Feb. 2017–I had 2 major operations plus totalled a car, lost my insurance, couldn’t move for months. But I couldn’t write. When my aunt died a couple days ago, I felt I needed to write and work all this out–but now I can’t write.

    I, too, keep a Five-Year Diary which is a good solution – it has these questions at the top of each page for one to answer — or not. I can usually get down what happened that day and/or what happened that day. I have been looking back at last year’s entries and they really do bring back the emotions and the thought pictures. I wish I could a diary like those that we find in the 19th century–but I can’t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *