Why HSPs Should Journal Their Way Through Difficult Times

A highly sensitive person (woman) writes in her journal to get through a difficult time

Journaling will help you understand and calm the chaotic thoughts running through your head.

I remember when the lockdown was first introduced in India. Being a sensitive person, I was extremely excited. A break from overstimulation and a chance to recharge? What more could I ask for, right?

So for the first two weeks, I took it upon myself to make the most of my “vacation.” I wanted to be productive and thoroughly enjoy my alone time. I woke up on time, exercised, and did everything I needed to do to be as productive as possible.

I was proud of myself. I didn’t need people, I thought. I was doing great, I was having fun! This was exactly what I needed for my sensitive system: a chance to reflect, process, and get a break from the demands of others.

Not so fast.

The Productivity Didn’t Last

However, the productivity didn’t last long. I guess I thought that if I buried myself in different activities and forced myself to stay busy, I wouldn’t have to deal with everything that was happening in the world. As I started watching the news almost every day, I realized this wasn’t my ideal vacation. The grim reality of COVID-19 finally caught up with me after days of ignoring it.

I saw how different parts of the world were suffering with the surge in cases, and my heart ached. I felt sad, helpless, bored, extremely lonely — and my productivity fell. I couldn’t just go back to my normal routine, and I felt guilty about wasting my time.

How was I going to get through this?

My Therapist Asked Me to Journal

After confiding in my therapist about my guilt associated with being unproductive, she asked me to give journaling a try. At first, I didn’t think journaling would help me deal with my emotions, but eventually I gave it a shot.

I opened one of my unused diaries and began penning my emotions. Following journaling prompts every day, I wrote about all the difficult emotions I was experiencing related to my sadness, anxiety, and loneliness.

And to my surprise, it worked. The first time I journaled, I felt this weight lift off my shoulders. I became more aware of what I was feeling, and understood the reasons I was so anxious.

With each and every passing day, I looked forward to writing about what I was feeling (or some of the things I did that were exciting). Of course, there were days when I didn’t feel motivated to bring my diary out, but once I started, it really made a difference to my day and mood. 

6 Ways Journaling Benefits Highly Sensitive People

As someone who overthinks almost everything, journaling became a way for me to resolve the conflict in my head. Many sensitive people may appear quiet as we feel out a situation, but our heads are filled with thoughts, observations, opinions, and connections to memories from years past. Journaling can be a great way to vent and find a safe place for your thoughts that other people are not able to understand.

In my experience, here are some more ways journaling benefits highly sensitive people (HSPs) — at any time, but especially during troubling times:  

1. It’s easier — and safer — to process emotions when they’re outside of you, on the page.

We’re in the midst of a global health crisis. In the U.S. and other countries, protests and violence over racism and police brutality have broken out. Due to the virus, we still can’t easily be with our friends and loved ones — and there are so many other problems we encounter on a daily basis. Yet we’re still somehow asked to carry on with our regular lives.

When I started journaling, I was able to pen all these difficult emotions like guilt, helplessness, and sadness that I didn’t even know I was feeling. The simple act of writing them down helped me understand what I was feeling and make sense of the different thoughts running through my head. On those blank pages of your notebook, you’re allowed to be completely honest about what you’re thinking. You don’t have to hide anything.

2. You know the little negative voice inside your head? Your journal doesn’t have that.

With the help of the journaling prompts, I was able to have more compassion for myself. The guilt I experienced for not being productive, for wasting my time, or for crying on multiple occasions was replaced by kindness to myself. I realized it was okay to have bad, unproductive days, and that it was okay to feel really upset.

I’ve accepted that everything right now is difficult and confusing to deal with, but I’m taking it one day at a time, and I need to be patient with myself. I’ve also learned to listen to myself and not dismiss my thoughts and feelings. 

3. You’ll find yourself writing exactly what you need from others — and how to tell them.

HSPs tend to do a lot of “caregiving” for those around us. Often, it’s easy to forget about our own needs — we think we always need to put others first. Through journaling, I realized how false that concept is. I’ve realized how much I miss my friends during lockdown and how much I need them. I’ve learned how to depend on them more to help me get through these difficult days.

Since they’re also journaling along with me, we’re able to discuss our feelings and comfort one another. Journaling has taught me that it’s okay to get support from them and tell them when I’m not feeling good — and this doesn’t make me selfish or any less of a compassionate person.

4. You’ll suddenly “see” all the little things that make you grateful.

Journaling has made me more aware of the little things that make me happy that I previously didn’t recognize. It could be appreciating the pretty flowers blooming, baking desserts, and having a meaningful interaction with family and friends. HSPs are capable of noticing and delighting in even the subtlest sources of joy, but often, we overlook them.

In troubling times, after all, it’s easy to be consumed by all the negativity, chaos, and disorder surrounding us. Taking a few moments every day to recognize all the little things or people that you have in your life can change everything — and make you feel so joyful and content. 

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5. It’s a release valve for overstimulation.

The best part for highly sensitive people: Journaling does not entail any kind of overstimulation! It’s simply a quiet, soothing activity you can do during your time alone. You don’t have to worry that it’s going to add to your cognitive load. You don’t have to feel guilty about making it completely about you or whether you’re saying the right things because no one else’s feelings are involved. It’s just you and those blank pieces of paper.

I also love how I can be honest, and I don’t have to overthink my thoughts. I can write about the awkward interactions with people, the ideas buzzing in my head, the really random thoughts, what I want to say to a person without worrying about what anyone will think, and more. 

If anything, it helps me avoid overstimulation by processing through all the experiences bouncing around my mind.

6. Journaling is a lens that allows your to see yourself from a whole new perspective.

Journaling will help you dig deep into yourself. HSPs tend to be reflective people, and I’ve learned to embrace this about myself enjoy writing through my thoughts. I’ve rediscovered my love for writing and realized that writing is the best way to express myself. I’ve also learned that I need to be more honest in my relationships.

I’ve now completed a month of journaling, and I feel like even though I’ve learned a lot about myself, I still have so much more to learn. Journaling is like digging deep into yourself and bringing out either the hidden treasures or broken bones — and learning to deal with both of them and accept them as part of you.

Journaling Prompts for Highly Sensitive People

Not sure how to get started? Write about anything that’s been on your mind lately. It could be related to a problem your country is facing or a personal issue. Whatever it is, don’t wait for it to pass on its own; take the time to journal. You could write in a book or even on your phone — whatever makes you comfortable.

Here are some journaling prompts to try: 

  1. What is something that has been weighing you down recently?  
  2. How have you been dealing with this current crisis? What people or things have helped you get through it? 
  3. What are some things that bring a smile to your face? 
  4. If you were completely fearless, what are some things you would do? It can be as crazy as possible, but that’s okay. 
  5. What is your life motto, a belief that has gotten you through dark days?

From one sensitive being to another, I encourage you to begin your journey of journaling. It’s a beautiful process that has changed me for the better — and one that I believe will change you, too.

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A version of this post originally appeared on our sister site, Introvert, Dear.