“Paper therapy” has been around for thousands of years but recently it’s taken the world by storm. Pen and paper can relieve stress in a way that’s truly life-changing. How so? When you use stream of consciousness writing, also called “free writing” or “morning pages,” journaling becomes therapeutic.
You simply put down your thoughts, feelings, goals, and emotions onto paper versus talking it out to a counselor or trusted friend. Scientific studies on the health benefits of expressive writing are pretty convincing — they consistently show improvements in both psychological and physical well-being.
Bullet journaling is genius for helping you organize priorities and activities, which right away reduces stress. But organizational creativity is what sets a BuJo apart from other types of planners and journals. So, consider adding free writing to your bullet journaling bag of tricks, in addition to washi tape and doodles.
Set aside a section of your bullet journal page for a short free writing session, as a daily daily “brain dump” to clear your mind. Or if you enjoy writing and want to do longer sessions, set aside a multi-page section of your BuJo or an entirely separate notebook just for your morning pages (regardless of when you actually do them).
How Writing Morning Pages Reduces Stress
Some people turn to physical activity for stress relief, which is awesome. But not everybody is up for jogging or yoga. They may need something a bit less strenuous.
Journaling is an easy, anytime, anyplace, low-cost way to relieve stress. By putting your thoughts and feelings on paper, you provide yourself with a time and place for self-reflection. When you see what you’re thinking — it’s right there in black and white — you can then reframe the problem and maybe look at it differently. Here’s how journaling helps relieve stress:
Safety Pressure Valve
With a journal, you don’t have to worry about anyone’s judgment so you can really let go. Your journal doesn’t judge. You can tell your journal anything, so be completely honest and don’t put up a false front or try to filter your thoughts and feelings. Let them out. Journaling can provide you with a creative outlet. Many people find it soothing.
Reality Vs. Fantasy
Do you ever replay the same possible scenario over and over, on an endless loop? When you put your fears and anxieties on paper, it gives you an opportunity to work out the problem in a different way. The world is much less scary when you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Put the facts of a situation on paper and go into detail. Write exactly how much money you owe, if debt is a concern. Write about the times your friend stood you up, if you’re feeling neglected. (Also detail how many times you were unreliable.) You may find that a situation which your brain told you to fear is actually not that big a deal or easily remedied.
Reminder of Your Strength
You can leaf through old journals and see how you’ve survived tough situations before and can handle whatever comes your way today. You’ll also learn from old journal entries what behaviors don’t work for you. A journal provides your brain with a refresher or second memory so no experience is ever wasted. For example, if you repeatedly fly off the handle, you can check your journal to see if there’s a repeating pattern, like hunger or fatigue. If so, you can plan out a better way to approach similar situations — don’t skip your coffee break, but skip the coffee and eat an apple instead.
Tips for Doing Free Writing in a Bullet Journal
Start by taking a deep breath, all the way into your belly while counting to six. Hold your breath for five to seven seconds and release very slowly while counting to eight. Repeat this process several times. Visualize yourself releasing any stress, negative thoughts, and emotions with every exhale. Imagine that negativity floating off, like a cloud or balloon. When you feel relaxed and fully present, not thinking about the awful traffic this morning or dreading the evening commute, say, then you’re mind is clear enough to begin.
Starting the Free Writing Process
Begin writing in a journal or a tablet. Take a moment to feel how your hand feels holding your pencil or pen. Do you have a firm or loose grip? Focus on how it feels to move your pen over the paper as you begin to write letters and forming words.
For stream of consciousness writing, simply begin writing whatever thoughts come to you at the moment. Don’t hold back any thought or emotion because it’s threatening or not nice. (“I hate my job, I hate my boss, I hate my life!”) Let your words flow and don’t even think about the mechanics of writing, like legible handwriting or spelling and grammar. Just keep your pen moving, even if the words don’t make sense, or they jump around from topic to topic. Write quickly so that your internal censor doesn’t cut in. If you can’t think of anything, go ahead a repeat the last sentence. Or write jibberish — “I hate it, I hate it, I hate it…” — until another thought comes to your mind.
You can choose to write for a certain time (set an alarm), or until you fill a particular section of your BuJo page spread, or until you reach a certain number of words/pages. If you have the opportunity, like on a weekend, you could shoot for 3 pages or 60 minutes. That may seem like a lot, but long sessions can provide you with great clarity and a sense of relief, knowing how you plan to respond productively to previously worrisome situations.
Keep Doing Morning Pages
But you may not have the time to write for long periods or the BuJo notebook space to write for 3 pages, and that’s ok. Many short sessions and snippets of text can be just as powerful. Journaling as a stress relieving exercise, however you choose to do it, is best when it becomes a habit. Get into a routine of journaling each day. If you’re a morning person, journal when you wake up. If you prefer the evening, journal then. (It’s a nice, relaxing way to slip into dreamland.) Pick up your journal when you’re feeling stressed or emotional. Share your feelings without any strings attached. You’ll feel better for it!