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Mental health, bad dreams and old age: why diaries are making a comeback.

We all know the old as time phrase, dear diary… but do we know how popular diaries still are today? In 2017, a whopping £43.3 million worth of diaries were sold in the UK, and they are still just as popular now. Diaries have been credited with helping mental health problems and neurodivergence, by helping people to note down their feelings and process them in written word form. Other benefits of keeping a diary or journal include helping to improve dream recall and keeping track of your memories.

“As a woman I have always repressed my anger.”

– Holly chisholm

Holly Chisholm, a digital illustrator in Phoenix, Arizona, United States, knows on personal experience how beneficial diaries can be on mental health, after following the suggestion of her therapist.

“Keeping a diary allows you to process through difficult emotions in a healthy way. We can use ‘journal speak’ to say things that we would never say aloud to someone and express our anger, sadness, or frustration without hurting anyone’s feelings.

“This keeps the emotion from becoming “stuck” inside and festering until it expresses itself as depression or anxiety.”

But how does journaling help Holly? Well, she says it helps her to express her anger in a healthy way, by using journal speak.

“I think as a woman I have always repressed my anger… journaling lets me feel my anger without repressing it.”

An example of a diary. Source: Olivia Tansley.

However, despite all the pop culture references to how joyful having a diary is (Bridget Jones, anyone?), keeping a diary isn’t always as simple as it’s made out to be. Sometimes people have to test and trial different diary styles for years before they find something that suits them. With narrative journaling, bullet journaling, and a countless amount of reworked diary apps that promise the exact same end game but all offering something different, is it any wonder that people give up after trying just one notebook? After struggling to find a journaling style that helped her, she created and illustrated her own ‘simple visual journal’.

“As a person with ADHD and visual learning style, I often felt bullet journaling and super detailed planners were overwhelming because they require you to track so much. I also sometimes don’t feel like writing much and would rather draw how I feel. That’s what inspired me to come up with a simple visual journal.”

To combat this, and similar problems that others may face, Holly created her own journal, which can be found on Amazon. The diary was created so that people who may struggle with certain aspects of standard diaries, such as busy pages. The diary called My Therapist Told Me to Journal is available to buy here.

“I feel that keeping a journal of any sort is good on your psyche.”

– lorrine dodds

Keeping a diary or journal can also help with dreams, especially if you suffer with nightmares or night terrors, and can reduce dream-related stress. Lorrine Dodds, a student in Leeds, UK, has kept her own dream journal for two and a half years, noting down her dreams in the Notes app on her phone.

“My dreams are quite vivid and scary sometimes, and I like knowing why I’m dreaming the things I’m dreaming so [the journal] gives me more clarity.”

Keeping track of her dreams helps Lorrine to feel calm and less stressed compared to when she hasn’t kept note of her dreams, and this of course has a beneficial effect on her waking life, too.

“I feel that keeping a journal of any sort is good on your psyche.”

Since keeping track of her dreams, she has been able to analyse the stresses of her everyday life affecting her subconsciously and has since managed to prevent these problems to give herself more carefree days.

And finally, another great reason to start keeping a diary is to keep fond memories of your life for when you get older. Belinda Saywell, a community health development worker in Leeds, UK, has been keeping a variety of diaries for several years, including in the form of photographs and photo albums.

“I’ve got a photo album form every year… it started when I was leaving secondary school and through college.

A large part of why I started keeping a diary is because I have a slight fear that I’m going to get super old and not remember anything; that’s why I have so many photos.”

Keeping diaries to commemorate life has always been a popular reason behind the pastime. For example, without Samuel Pepys’ recollection of the Great Fire of London we would never have known about how he buried his cheese in the garden!

However, Belinda also encourages diary keeping to help with your mental health.

She said: “I 100% would recommend it for positive mental health, regulating your emotions, or even if you just want to look back and see how far you’ve come.”

A woman writing in a diary. Source: Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels.

Diary keeping and journaling has lots of different benefits, but everyone is different so it may take a while to find a type that suits you so if you do choose to start, don’t get disheartened if it doesn’t match your energy right away. You may just need a to experiment with a range of styles, including photo albums, dream journals, and visual diaries. No matter what, just remember that one day you could be famous, and people would love to hear about your life, so why not keep a diary?

What do you think?