When we find ourselves in a challenging season of life, it’s imperative to find tools that allow us to feel more whole, a greater sense of comfort, and extend a semblance of grace towards ourselves. And others. Whether the season is something that’s happening to us alone. Such as the loss of a parent or the dissolution of a relationship. Or something from the outside world.

I’ve found that keeping a diary is saving my mental and emotional health.

When I talk about a diary, you may imagine a book given to a young girl that has a little lock and key. Remember those? There was a page for each day of the year. I’m sure I’m not the only one who got a pretty little diary for Christmas. But no, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to keeping a diary right now.

You may be asking: what’s the difference between keeping a diary and keeping a journal.

Both diaries and journals have been kept for centuries. Along with letters, reading diaries and journals has allowed us to learn how people lived from the simple and mundane details of tending life to deeper descriptions of thoughts, emotions, and the larger state of affairs. So, while a diary and journal can sounds synonymous or interchangeable there is a key difference.

A diary is a record of daily experiences. From what clothes you wore, to what you ate, to the weather, and other factual notations about living life. When I think of a diary, I think of a simple list rather than paragraphs or even full sentences. When you write in a diary, it’s about creating a record of the facts for that day.

Keeping a journal usually goes beyond that. A journal usually explores richer details of life, our thoughts, emotions, and/or reactions. So, rather than simple facts, a journal explores ideas and concepts.

I’ve kept both in the past. And frankly, right now, I am keeping a diary alongside my regular journal. While it may seem redundant to keep both a journal and diary, they are quite different in how they are serving me right now.

Here’s sixteen reasons why keeping a diary has become a saving grace.

    • During our lock-down, the days have run together. When I realized I was having problems remembering the date, the day of the week, and how many days we’d been staying at home, I knew my own need for logic demanded I change that.
    • Being able to keep track of how often I am venturing out allows me to not only note the fact of my errands, but how going into the store made me feel. Early ventures to the store were frightening and stressful. While more recent trips to the store have felt more welcoming. In part, because the stores are better prepared for social distancing. And, in part, because I’ve become more adept at wearing a mask and avoiding people.
    • I’m also taking note of how well stocked the stores are. While this may not be important to me now, a decade or two from now, that information may be helpful.
    • If we were to get sick, this record could help pinpoint the growing need for trace detection.
    • I am keeping a record of what we’ve been eating. By keeping track of what we’re eating, I’m noticing the differences between how we eat when JB goes into the office VS how we eat when we’re both home all day. This is giving me a peek into our future as JB is planning to retire in the next three years.
    • By keeping a diary of what we’re eating, I can also see how our preferences are shifting.
    • While some friends have told me how much they are saving since they aren’t going out, our grocery expenditures have actually increased. When it comes to a family budget, the notations in my diary of what we’re eating, how the stores have been, and where I’m going are giving me insight into the budget changes.
    • Keeping track of the household chores I have done each day reminds me that I’m not just sitting around doing anything. And some days, it feels like I’ve gotten “nothing” done. So, rather than fall into the trap of believing that I’m not accomplishing anything during this time at home, I am reminding that inner critic of mine that I am often quite busy. It’s helpful to note I did four loads of laundry rather than just look back, you know?
    • Noting in my diary of our bigger household chores – cleaning closets, reorganizing the pantry, cleaning out the garage, and prepping the deck for spring
    • Simple observations on how I am feeling each day has been invaluable. Naming emotions is empowering, a good thing when so much is out of my control. It’s also been comforting to note how JB has felt each day, because then I can separate how my experiences are affecting my mood VS how my reaction to his emotion is affecting my mood.
    • Observations on my emotions also allows me to choose better emotions I want to experience. For example, if I’ve been overly cranky or complaining, those lines in my diary can be just the dose of awareness I need to change what I can: my own attitude.
    • It’s also helping me find gratitude. By keeping a diary of all of these tasks, I am able to find the silver threads in our daily lives.
    • By notating the weather, I can then look back and see if what we eat or how we’re feeling is affected by what’s right outside our door. Does a cold or rainy day always equal a desire for comfort food or bad moods? Or have we been able to avoid cabin fever even when the weather is warm and sunny?
    • How we’ve entertained ourselves is another point of interest. What are we watching and reading? Are we playing games? What hobbies are we each indulging in? Again, good facts to reflect on when it comes to our moods. And good things to remember as we move towards retirement.
    • Keeping in touch with friends and family members is reminding me how important connection is to me. And if I notice that too many days have gone by without me chatting with a friend or even writing a letter, I can make note to connect  in some way the following day.
    • Last, but not least, a local university has asked for contributions to their special collections and archives department on daily life during this pandemic. To be able to contribute to a larger cause encourages me in keeping a diary these days. And I am more likely to take snapshots of my diary page or create a document based on my diary than I would be inclined to share from my journal.

You may be wondering what physical item I am using for a diary.

I am using my planner to not only keep track of what appointments I have with clients, but as my diary as well. It’s something that already sits on my desk during the day. If you’d like to begin keeping a diary for yourself,  you may wonder about what to use. Any notebook will do, though it may be easier to use a calendar that already has the dates.

Now that I’ve shared how keeping a diary is helping me find more grace these days, how about you? Would that help you navigate these challenging time?

“By beginning a diary, I was already conceding that life would be more bearable if I looked at it as an adventure and a tale. I was telling myself the story of a life, and this transmutes into an adventure the things which can shatter you.”
― Anaïs Nin

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