COVID-19 has thrown a lot of obstacles in our course. Whether it was your intended graduation date or the job you were eying for the next internship but was cancelled. So how can we make sense of these different obstacles without it feeling like life has thrown a number of wrenches in our plans. As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots by looking forwards, you can only connect them looking backwards,” or in other words, hindsight is 20/20.
In March of last year, I started journaling. A habit that I’m proud to have kept up but one that has also transformed my own mental health and resilience. Many people have preconceived notions that journaling is only for the English majors or the Philosophers among us. However, I’ve found that as a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) student, I’ve largely enjoyed this habit—not only as a way to better articulate my experiences and emotions but also to improve my sense of purpose during the dreaded pandemic.
So why should you start journaling?
- Tracks your progress: if you ever wondered if your academic and professional work mattered or if that side project you’ve been working on will ever be appreciated and respected by people around you, don’t fear. You’re not alone. Imposter syndrome, the experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be, is real and affects many of us. Since I’ve started journaling, I’ve begun to notice the small hints of progress that keep me motivated. And during lockdowns, when we don’t have our friends or family cheering us on, we might feel like our experiences are meaningless. Journaling gives you a chance to reflect on the progress and plan for the future.
- Check in with yourself: self-care is a word we throw around a lot during the pandemic. We emphasize mental health, but we have few practical strategies to overcome our apathy for the series of disheartening information on the news. One way I’ve found journaling has helped me is to be more in tune with my emotions. I find that while I feel angry or frustrated, I often cannot always pinpoint the source of that emotion. Instead, the emotional aspects translate into physical manifestations of mental fogginess or heart racing. While traditionally journaling is associated with physical pen and paper, there are now many online journals such as Penzu or Evernote that help keep our journals organized.
- Find creative answers to your problems: When I’m busy ruminating over my emotions and not being entirely clear-headed, I find it difficult to find win-win solutions. For example, after an argument with a significant other, I found myself journaling to help find better ways to communicate. I listed some of the pros and cons of my current behavior and took the time to reflect how both of us can improve. Journaling in a way gave control back to me and allowed me to take control of the situation rather than a respondent.