How to Journal Through a Time of Isolation

During unusual times, a private place to record your thoughts and feelings is a valuable coping tool.

Posted in , Mar 30, 2020

Journaling in isolation

When I was a child, I was a fastidious diary-keeper. Each day, I would write, “Dear Dairy,” hilariously misspelling my journal’s name in a milky way. Then I would list the activities I had done that day. As I got older and grew in my ability to reflect on my emotions, some feelings made their way into my entries.

Astronaut Scott Kelly wrote recently in The New York Times about lessons he learned from a year in isolation on the International Space Station. He listed journaling as one of the practices he found—and NASA research confirms—to be helpful in staying calm and emotionally healthy during prolonged time alone.

Just like I did as a child, Kelly grew in his journaling routine. He recommends against simply listing your daily activities, which can quickly become mundane during a time of isolation. Instead, he suggests finding creative ways to explore the experience of your life during unusual times. Here are five of his tips:

Notice Your 5 Senses
Kelly recommends describing your experience through the lens of each of your 5 senses. What did you see, smell, hear, taste and touch today? You can make a chart in your journal and fill in words and images for each section.

Color-Code Your Day
Come up with a color coding system that matches the range of emotions you experience in a typical day. An easy one is “green” for peaceful or focused, “yellow” for fidgety or distracted, and “red” for anxious or upset. Each day in your journal—or even a few times throughout your day—use colored pencils or markers to indicate which color best reflects your state of mind. Do you see a pattern over multiple days?

Make It a Correspondence
Pretend your journal is a pen pal who will read your words with great interest and compassion. What do you want to share in the safety and privacy of this special relationship? What would you like to hear in return? Imagine your journaling as a way to correspond with your own inner life.

Draw Your Day
Even if you’re not an artist, it can be helpful to put your thoughts and feelings into an image rather than a paragraph. You can try to draw scenes that have happened, or you can sketch any images that reflect your feelings.

Make a Journaling Routine
Try to come to your journal at the same time each day. Sometimes you might just jot down a word or a quick doodle, or sometimes your pen might fly over multiple pages. But setting aside a dedicated time each day to connect with your journal grounds your day in a way that is healthy in and of itself. 

How do you use a journal to organize your day?

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