Journal Writing During a Pandemic
— May Sarton, American poet, novelist, and memoirist
Do you keep a daily journal? If you do, you know what an invaluable resource journal writing can be in times of crisis. If you are a lapsed journal writer or have never kept a journal, consider starting one today.
Journal writing is a means of checking in with yourself. It’s a portal that deepens one’s consciousness—of society, of the physical world, of the senses, of one’s inner life, of the spirit. It asks: How are you? How are you really?
The tools you need are (1) blank paper or a notebook, (2) a pen or pencil, (3) twenty minutes, (4) privacy, and (5) a little faith in yourself—faith that this act of writing is important for your health and well-being.
Decades of medical and social science research show the benefits of writing. The simple act of putting pen to paper is proven to reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate, increase the production of the body’s T-cells to bolster the immune system, and expedite recovery from disease.
Whatever your burdens, long- or short-term, journal writing can help you sort out your jumbled thoughts and feelings by giving you a confidential, safe place to let it all out. There is an unspeakable relief in having said all you have to say on a topic that distresses you. Word by word, the process of writing brings order to your inner life, which brings order to your world.
The COVID-19 pandemic prods us to explore and ask questions, whether we toil on the front lines—working in hospitals, food service, grocery stores, online teaching, and vital manufacturing—or find ourselves in lockdowns and quarantines. The situation begs us to assess our daily lives before, and during, and the unimaginable after.
Many of us have an opportunity to be more deliberate about the choices we make, and your journal is a place to explore those choices. What are your daily joys and pleasures? Struggles and confusions? What do you most hunger for? What do you miss—and what do you not miss? What are you thankful for? Expressing gratitude is common part of a journaling practice, and in times of trouble we need to uncover our gratitude most of all.
In your journal, write without judgment. No one will see these pages but you (and maybe not even you!), though you may choose to share some of what you’ve written. You can tear up your pages and throw them away if you want, but be prepared to realize that you’ve produced a treasure trove of memories that can be reread and perhaps passed on to your loved ones.
My mother was born in 1918 in the midst of that Spanish Influenza pandemic. How I wish I had my grandmother’s journals from that time! I wonder about the details of their day-to-day lives, and what I could learn from what they lived.
Try it! You can begin today. Simply write down the details of your day. No detail is too small to be noticed and appreciated. Day after day, you’ll be capturing and understanding your life.